Sunday, March 29, 2009

Under Every Pile of Crap There Might Be a Pony

Black Clouds:

1. My camera is dead. I hear that it may be recovering with a friend in Alabama, or it may need to be replaced, but one way or t'other, we're out of the picture taking biz temporarily, and we have things we should be taking pictures of.

2. Carrie left us a crap-ass mess to clean up in the house she was renting.

3. I inherited a boatload of pictures when my mother died that I've been carting around with me like an unexamined albatross.

4. Sage has the cancer.

Silver Lining:

Sage's cancer has had me thinking I should go through those photo boxes and find her puppy pictures, so yesterday I dragged them all out and we started going through them. I found many excellent ones of Sage, along with a ton of pictures of my son and other cool stuff, and in the very last box I discovered a treasure trove of photos of my childhood in my mom's stuff that I had no idea even existed.

One of the things Carrie abandoned in her rental house was a printer/copier/scanner.

We hooked it up and it works like a charm, so we've been scanning our brains out and will soon have photos again ... the cool old kind!

Also, my co-worker is remodeling her house after a flood and we scored a great piece of furniture she didn't want after she ordered it. Wooohooo, more bookshelves!

We love serendipity.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More Stuff About Stuff...This Time It's Family Stuff.

Last week we had a bad three-car car wreck on a highway near the hospital where I work. The center of the three car sandwich was a family who's car was rear ended and pushed into oncoming traffic, where they were hit head on. One child was ejected out onto the highway, one had his head crushed when he flew around inside the car, and the third was unharmed in her carseat.

I was working the blood bank that evening. There's nothing more awful for a parent than working a trauma with children. Most of your brain is working on work: crossmatching as fast as you can for multiple people at the same time and then sending units out the door. Again and again and again until the E.R. runners stop showing up at your elbow, the phone stops ringing, the helicopters take off, and you can look around and breathe.

But I think it's especially difficult for us parents. The thought periodically pops into our heads, "What if those were my kids?" It reminds us of ever stupid thing we ever did raising our own and how many ways it could have gone bad.

The parents in the car were relatively unharmed. The little boy died, and his sister was flown to St. Louis by helicopter to a full-service pediatric trauma center, where I suspect she'll be a guest for a fairly long time.

The parents had to leave the hospital, get in a car and go home with their new reality. The accident wasn't their fault, but the unbelted kids were. They'll have the rest of their lives to wish for that moment back.

I'm currently mad at my grown daughter. She and I have gotten crossways in about all the ways a relationship can get crossways. I'm so mad, in fact, that when she moved to Chicago last week I told her to give me a few months to cool down before she gets in touch.

I know I'll get over it. Like the lady at the City Hall said yesterday, "Honey, they don't even think about growing up until they're 30."

The juxtaposition of my anger with my daughter and the death of someone else's children nags at me. Forgiveness is a gift for everyone; it doesn't make anyone's life better to hang on to old grievences. It also doesn't make life better to be a doormat...there's a balance to be struck there somewhere. However, it's not a straight line from here to there. There's all sorts of curvy side paths on the way...a mix of how could you, sprinkled with some recognition of the same selfish behavior from our own past, plus the nagging thought that this may be my fault somehow.

I love my kids. Hell, everyone loves their kids. But it's easy to think about all the times we've done things with them that could have had disasterous consequences. It's amazing that people survive their childhoods, and that parents survive their parenthood. But we do mostly, and then the kids grow up and have their own kids who make them crazy with anger and fear and love and pride, sometimes all at once, just like we did to our own parents. It's a contract that families have: I'll forgive you for every crappy thing you did on your path to adulthood, but the price you have to pay for that is forgiving your own kids their crappy behavior.

Like Katie used to say, "It's the ciwcle of yife."

It's the Mother's Curse...Someday you'll have children just like you. We hope. If you're lucky.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shameless Self-Indulgence Warning

Get out your hankies, because I'm going to talk about my dog. If you've heard parts of this before you'll just have to indulge me, because I need to do this from the beginning:

Sage is a 13-year-old red chow-shiba inu mix. (Ev calls her an "eeboo beeboo.") My son and I adopted her from the pound when he was ten and she was a year old. She was his first dog. He'd always begged for a dog, but we lived in rentals, so she was our first acquisition when I bought my first house.

We were three needy creatures in those days!

I'd been through three marriages that were utter failures. My son was struggling to cope with not having a dad and I wasn't filling the void. Sage had been through three owners who all gave up on her because she was a destructive chewer. It was love at first sight for all of us misfits.

We got off to a bit of a rough start. She destroyed a chair, a rug, the mail and a six foot stuffed dolphin in the first couple of months, but she was such a sweet girl otherwise that I invested in a professional dog trainer to teach us all some obedience training. She probably needed it the least of the three of us and was the quickest learner. After six months of crating her for her separation anxiety she's never again laid her mouth on another thing but kibble and chewies. Oh, and that groundhog. And that possum.

At any rate, we've gloated often in the ensuing years over what a really great dog she is and how dumb those other people were to give her up. Until she got old and cranky she was the most even-tempered and patient dog in the world with people and other animals (except that possum and that groundhog). She's always loved everything else that came into her life ... cats, dogs, ducks, ferrets ... and she probably wanted to love the possum and the groundhog too, but it didn't work out. But seriously, all you have to do is look at her eyes to know how much she wants to please you.

Sage has been struggling with arthritis for at least the past five years, but it's really been bad for the past two. She's having more and more trouble getting up and down, getting more and more stiff and sore, being less and less willing to hobble all the way outside to go to the potty ... and getting way grumpier about being groomed because even her skin hurts.

A couple of weeks ago we found a mass on her abdomen and she had surgery last week to remove it. It turned out to be an adenocarcinoma of her mammary gland ... she's got malignant breast cancer.

We've known for the past year or so that Sage was winding down and we've talked about what that will look like for her and for us. We aren't those pet owners who put our pets through extraordinary measures to prolong their lives, so we were okay with letting nature and old age take its course. Now we know what that course will be and we have a better sense of how short an amount of borrowed time we're on.

I want to talk about her while she's still alive, though, and talk about the Sage-ness of her and what she's taught me.

Sage was my son's first dog, but she's really my first dog, too, and we've had a lot to learn from each other. The other dogs in my life were childhood pets, which meant they were really my parents' dogs, or they were temporary dogs who came in and out of my life with roommates or weren't kept for one reason or another (usually because I wasn't responsible enough to keep them). Sage is the first dog I ever made a full-out, lifelong commitment to and kept it. She's shared my adult life, made every move with me, been through three relationships with me, been there while my son grew up and left the nest, and impacted my domicile choices. No Sage? No deal. I've moved her across the city and across the state and across the country, shared houses when we had them and rooms in someone else's house when we didn't. She's sometimes been the only friend I had. I've cried on her shoulder and gotten snot on her fur and she doesn't mind. She's my dog, and she's taught me what that means.

When I got Sage she was shy and nervous and had bad habits and was scared of everything. I had to teach her to play tug-of-war because she would just give up and let the human have whatever the human seemed to want. She always thought she was in trouble. I worked hard to teach her (and me) to trust herself and people, and that autonomy is a good thing and it's okay to hang onto what you want and fight for it, within reason. Today she can snarl and take no crap from the puppy instead of giving up her food and her bed. Yay, Sage!

The one thing she loves is to run. She can't run fast anymore, but when she was a youngster ... hoo, boy! She would run huge laps around our big grassy yard at breakneck speeds, almost laid over on her side taking the corners, and grinning from ear to ear. Now she walks her big grassy yard and lays in the sun. She's taught me that big grassy yards are good for the soul at all stages of life and one should always have one.

She's a tidy girl who doesn't like to get her feet wet or dirty, and until she lived on three acres she used to pick one spot in the yard for her bathroom and not leave land mines in the lawn. She's more devil-may-care about that these days. Her outside fastidiousness is occasionally overcome by her tendency to be sort of high-strung and nervous indoors (and to try and "hold it" forever), so she occasionally does what we call the "exploding dog" trick. The first time it happened (from one end of the new house to the other on the beige wall-to-wall berber carpeting) I just sat down and cried. Sage has taught me the uselessness of rage over poop on the carpet and the value of owning your own steam cleaner.

Sage has taught me that when you make a commitment to a relationship (be it with a dog or a human) you take it seriously, and it's forever. Relationships (with dogs and humans) aren't always going to be without frustration or anger, and they aren't always going to personally fulfilling. Sometimes they'll be hard, nasty work. Sometimes they'll be "stuck in the house in the winter." Sometimes, however, they'll be full of romping in the sun. Sage has taught me that relationships are much more about comfortable companionship than about tug-of-war and excitement, and you don't get there by turning in the old one for a new one when the old one isn't fun anymore.

As much as she's taught me about making a commitment, she's also taught me about letting go, and that jealousy is a wasted emotion. I used to the the primary human in her life, but I'm not anymore ... she's moved on. Katie is her first choice and Ev is her second. Dogs can be fickle that way. So can people. We've been a little bit estranged for the past couple of years even though we live in the same house. We acknowledge each other, but she doesn't come easily to me when I call her anymore, or wag and bark when I come home like she does for Ev and Katie. Maybe I'm just a part of her landscape after all these years and nothing to get excited about anymore. She's taught me that it's okay not to be the whole world to someone or have all their affection and attention ... there's plenty to go around.

Sage taught me about unconditional responsibility to another living being at a time in my life when I was clueless about such things. She's taught me loyalty.

In exchange for all the things she's taught me, I've tried to give Sage a good life. She hasn't suffered abuse or neglect from me (although her matted coat would make you wonder sometimes). She's had safety and security and some freedom to explore her world. She's had experiences and gone places and had all kinds of animal friends and sniffed a wide assortment of butts. She's been warm in the winter, cool in the summer and dry when it's raining. She's been well fed and well loved. The best thing I've ever done for her (and for me) was finding Ev and her kids and moving to Southern Illinois, where the grass is plentiful and the sunshine is warm and the bunnies are ripe for the chasing. It's been a good place for Sage to live out the last years of her life and she's a happy dog. What more can you ask, really?

I wanted to get all this down now, while she's still around for me to appreciate, and I wanted to get some of the sadness out of my system so I can enjoy the time we've got left. This is something I actually learned from my mother's death, after which we said, "Wouldn't it be great if we'd throw big memorial get-togethers for people and talk about what they meant to us BEFORE they died???" So this is that. It's Sage's pre-memorial, and we both thank you for attending.

So what do I need from Sage at this point? Not a damn thing. It's her turn to do the needing. I want the time we've got left to be good time for her, and when it's not good time for her I want to do the kindest thing I can do for her and help her go peacefully, surrounded by people who love her. And I don't want to only be able to tell her story in the past tense. I hope she gets one more Spring and Summer. She likes those the best.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pull The Plug

I have a message from the Grassroots to the leadership in Washington:

You don't have to let it fail
you can turn off the life support now.

Perhaps you didn't notice, but the "financial industry" stopped serving the public quite awhile ago and has been solely in the business of stealing whatever wealth this country had and burying it in its own caves for a long damn time.

What we're engaged in here isn't a "bailout" or the shoring up of a necessary financial base for the citizens of the United States. It's a war. It's a war between the majority of US citizens and those who have manipulated our economy for their own greed and are fast leaving the rest of us jobless, homeless and penniless without a backward glance. They may have all the money, but we outnumber the bastards and we're angry. We also have the advantage of being in better shape for this war because we've actually had to work for a living (and cut way back on our food intake) than those fat pasty assholes. And really, we're getting angry enough to do something drastic, fellas. This may be the actual "bipartisanship" the country needs ... EVERYBODY is pissed off, and everybody is pissed off at the same goddamned people.

It doesn't matter how much Monopoly money we print at this point, they've already got all the real wealth ... but they'll be just as happy to take the funny money, too, just for good measure.

This is not rocket science ... or even complicated economics. I have a contract with my company which states that they will pay me "x" in exchange for my doing "y" amount of work. "X" is contingent upon my doing "y" in an ethical and legal manner and upon the company thriving, at least partly due to that work, or my contract is null and void and I will not be collecting "x" ... I will be sitting home on my couch perusing the newspaper for another job. If the economy causes my company to flounder because people cannot afford our services, it's possible that I will not be collecting "x" no matter how well I perform "y" because the company will no longer be able to afford "x" ... and I will be sitting home on my couch perusing the newspaper for another job. If I am caught stealing from my company or rifling through the purses of our customers and stealing their money, I will not be paid "x" ... I will be sitting home on my couch perusing the newspaper for another job. If the whole damn company goes under because no one can afford our services we will not be getting a bailout from anyone ... no one will be paid "x" ... we will all be sitting home on our various couches perusing newspapers for jobs. Our customers will not be perusing their respective newspapers because they will be blind due to their inability to access our services and will be receiving disability "x".

AIG is the current and handiest example of a company whose top executives have broken every one of the "if 'x' then 'y'" rules of business as the majority of Americans understand them. Why are they still collecting "x" (and "x" to the "nth" power) and not sitting on their couches perusing their newspapers looking for other jobs?

And really, here's the news flash for President Obama and the new administration:

AIG is not keeping America afloat. It is sinking the country. The country has become a life support system for a bloated corpse that has done nothing to deserve to be kept alive. The majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. The majority of Americans have credit scores that can't hope to be astronomically high enough to please most lenders in this economy, even though they make ample money to cover a non-usurious mortgage or car payment. The majority of Americans (those who, coincidentally, voted for CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN) are not being served by AIG ... or by the public servants we elected. The "change" we were looking for was not the pennies left in the dryer at the laundromat.

Someone will have to prove to me -- and not in convoluted theoretical economics -- how the death of a bloated economic giant could possibly make a nickle's worth of negative difference in the day to day life of the average American.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spring Sprang Sprung

Spring dropped by to taunt us like a neighbor running up on the porch to show off her winning lottery ticket and then running away to cash it in. But in the brief couple of days it was here, teasing us with its sunshine and 70 degree temperatures, the grass turned green, the daffodils sprang up in bunches alongside the road and many trees began sporting their bright pink Spring coats. Can Easter eggs be far behind?

Today they're forecasting a light snow in the afternoon and a high of 34.

We spent our day off yesterday being frivolous and carefree and staying away from the house and out in the world for eight whole hours of grownup, kid-free girlfriend time.

I will spend today stoking the fire in the fireplace and shampooing the lakes of dog vomit out of the carpet. That's the price that must be paid for spending eight hours away from home and leaving the dogs with a softhearted teenager who thinks it's a little bit mean to crate them and was sure we'd be right back because we never go anywhere.

(We sometimes wonder exactly what Cooper gets into and eats when no one's looking that makes her barf so prodigiously, but we're pretty sure we don't really want to know. Last week I had to pry a credit card out of her mouth before she swallowed it.)

The next time Spring arrives on our doorstep we're going to club it over the head and tie it up in the yard so it can't get away again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Whither Civil Unions This Time?

A civil union bill is once again creeping through the Illinois General Assembly. We're watching it closely, to say the least. Besides the fact that Lori and I would like the opportunity for official validation to give our relationship some legal backbone, I'd also like to add her to my mediocre, overpriced health insurance policy. Oh...and I love her. A lot.

Conservative groups in Illinois say that the civil union bill is just a smokescreen for a law demanding full marriage rights and once we get our hands on marriage equality, all manner of mayhem will break loose. Traditional marriage as we know it will be destroyed. The divorce rate among heteros will skyrocket, families will be led by a single parent, and serial marriage and childbirth out of wedlock will become normalized.

oh...wait. That's what's happening now. WITH the sanctity intact.

Let's face it. Heterosexuals have not been great stewards of the sacred institution of marriage for the last century or so. Why not let us queers give it a try? What's the worst we can do? Get divorced? Gad, what a scandal that would be!

And for all you proponents of the Slippery Slope Theory of legislative permissiveness, I promise not to use this as a gateway to marry:

1. My pets (who smell bad and don't carry their weight with regard to household chores).
2. Children (see above).
3. Multiple women and/or men.
4. Inanimate objects.

Now you in turn, Protectors of America's Morality, have to return the favor. You have to give up:

1. Sex with children (I'm talking to you, Catholic Church)
2. Multiple spouses (Hear me, Mormons?)
3. Sex outside the bonds of your Holy Matrimony (that one is especially for you, Larry Craigs and David Vitters of the world. No more hookers or bathroom trysts, unless they're with your sacred, government-sanctioned wife).

I was talking about my desire to civil union Lori (and really, it would be worth letting us get married to avoid verbs like "civil unioning") with some coworkers yesterday, and one of them asked if we would have a ceremony.

I explained my extreme stage fright, and said probably not, and she said, Oh, you should. Just invite a few friends who accept your lifestyle and have a small ceremony."

Accept our lifestyle?

You mean the one in which we go to work every day, put our kids through college, pay our taxes and fret about our bills? That lifestyle?

Or the one where I have a monogamous lifelong relationship with a person that I love, and would like to know that in the event of my death she could keep our home and live out her years on my life insurance and retirement benefits? Is that the subversive lifestyle we're referring to?

There's an ongoing debate about gay marriage among gay people that it's hetero-normative and it actually gives unfair weight to the outdated construct of marriage as a moral institution as opposed to a legal one. I get that. I'm not trying to force anyone to do anything different with their own lives. I'm not interested in a church-sanctioned religious ceremony performed by a minister choking back his bile with the gun of State Authority in his back. I promise...I'll stay out of your church if you'll stay out of my relationship.

The reality is that hetero-normative marriages are the kinds of marriages we grew up with, and that's the structure many of us feel most comfortable in. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel here...I just want the same boring old marriage the rest of you get into (and out of) with such ease.

Please, Illinois General Assembly? Pretty please with wedding cake frosting? We promise not to be weird. Well...maybe not too weird.

Monday, March 09, 2009


Robin? I saw Rainbow Beardsley on Facebook. I'm just sayin'. NOW do you want to sign up?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

America's Lost Decade

Please, if you read nothing else today, read this. Read it, repost it somewhere ... pass it on. Here's an idea; print it out and send copies to your elected representatives:

America's Lost Decade

Hunter Mar 8, 2009 1:06 PM - Show original item

It is difficult to muster any sympathy whatsoever for the goddamned banks. This is a crisis entirely of their own manufacture. Yes, the housing market went down -- which anyone with an ounce of sense could have predicted, and did. Any bank betting the entirety of its assets many-times-over on that not happening deserves to fail as spectacularly as possible, its corporate leadership condemned to no greater future responsibilities than bussing tables.

Of the two current largest zombie banks -- Citibank and AIG, neither of which has any rational chance of survival, short of the government simply pouring cash down their gullets until they are well and truly satiated -- I have a special loathing of Citibank. A bank dedicated towards building consumer debt in ever more creative ways, they helped to push for the infamous bankruptcy bill that made it impossible for the struggling middle class to get out from under credit card debts, explicitly. As it turns out, that was probably a wonderfully stupid move on their parts. What happens when people can't pay credit card debts, and you pass a law saying they have to, period, no matter what? They don't magically have more money than they did before the law was passed, so something else has to give. Something like, say... their mortgages?

Well, there you go, brain trust. Well played.

In any event, the American political arena is currently locked in mortal combat over such words as "nationalization", because when given the choice between doing something according to common sense or according to asinine and petty mantra, no politician or pundit will ever chose the common sense approach. Call it nationalization, or socialization, or a bailout, or lemon capitalism, or temporary restructuring -- call it beagleization or mangrove dispepticism for all any of us care, the fact of the matter is that insolvent banks are insolvent banks, and we have a choice: we can take them over, as form of government-backed insurance of the marketplace, or we can let them burn. Our hearts say let them burn, and with as many of those insufferable, rich-as-hell and dirty-as-snot Masters of the Universe inside them as possible. Our heads, though, say we don't want to wait in Depression-style bread lines just for a bit of schadenfreude, and so we're going to be taking over these banks. The alternatives are letting them fail, which is economically devastating, or simply printing new dollars by the trillions and giving it to them free of charge or restraint until all their debts suddenly become manageable, which is impossible. So fine; we'll be taking them over, in at least some capacity.

You know it, I know it, the politicians know it, and the banks know it. The expectation that that will be happening is, in fact, one of the few moderating influences on the current market.

While their may once have been a time when Wall Street could have been considered the engine of American finance, it has become in actual practice little but a high-fashion casino. (Perhaps Bernie Madoff made it too explicit, but in reality his Ponzi scheme functioned for so long, and with so little investigation, precisely because it did operate much as any of the other high-roller operations that it mimicked.) Credit default swaps (at least, as they were implemented) served exactly one purpose, which was to give uninvolved parties a roundabout way to bet large amounts of money on something that was, due to the inherently untangleable mess of the underlying "assets", of unknowable value. Like much of the financial inventions of the last decade or two, it did nothing to stimulate any part of the economy other than finance itself. It created no jobs, except the jobs required to push paperwork from one desk to another. It created no new products, and invented no new technologies, and it gave no money to any party interested in doing either. And America boomed because of it.

That is the nature of the new kind of "finance" that continued to represent a larger and larger share of America's ostensible "prosperity". We have become a nation incapable of effectively making textiles, cars, steel, electronics or other physical things, because those things only allow for a little profit. Instead, we choose to dabble in the strictly theoretical profits of high finance -- imaginary profits on imaginary wealth. Finance became more and more speculatory, and less and less encumbered by physical products, or assets, or services.

And the rich have done exceedingly well for themselves, in that new economy. As for the rest of the nation, the middle class found themselves subjectively in a recession for the entirety of the Bush years. Food prices, gas prices, housing prices -- on every front, it became harder and harder for the middle and poorer classes simply maintain the status quo, and yet none of this counted as recession or poverty, because we simply kept redefining the terms to exclude such unpleasantness.

What did we gain? Ask yourself -- what, exactly, did the nation create during those years? What new projects did America embark on? What betterments did we make to the lives, or health, or happiness of our citizens? What did we do?

The answer is jack-squat. We did nothing. We were attacked, and so we had a war. We suffered recession, and so we were told that to save our economy we should go to the malls and buy more things. We presided over the draining of our own wealth, and did nothing, and under what truly must count as the most dysfunctional American government -- legislative, executive and judicial -- of many decades, we actually were told we should feel proud over all of it, or at the very least to shut up about it.

We are aware of Japan's "Lost Decade", a period of real estate collapse and economic stagnation. We have, though, been in our own Lost Decade since the turn of the millennium, and only now that the higher echelons of our society have found themselves in as unpalatable a situation as the rest of us have been in has anyone important deigned to notice. We have had a decade of doing nothing, and two decades of offshoring our every competence, leaving us to putter in our financial closets and declare ourselves kings of all we could see.

If there is anything to be learned from any of this, is that at some point, America simply must invest in itself again. If we can no longer build cars, so be it -- but perhaps we can build a new energy infrastructure. If America is uninterested in even maintaining the highway infrastructure that a past generation built, fine -- perhaps in this hundred years, we can evolve past them. We have already faced fifty years of price shocks, petro-dictatorships, and every sort of punishment as a result of our stubborn insistence that oil is the One and Only Possible Energy Source -- why, exactly? How did America get, to put it too damn bluntly, so dumb? We once could reach the moon -- now we cannot. We once could provide both pensions and healthcare to our citizens -- now we cannot. We once led the world in technology in nearly every field -- now we do not.

We could be leaders, if we simply regained our interest in leading. If we were interested in technological leadership, or educational leadership, or having the best infrastructure, or having the best healthcare, or having the best anything, save military might, we could have it. We are gladly pouring over trillion dollars into propping up the necessary fictions of speculatory finance, money that exists in no form other than numbers in the computers and file cabinets of the world; what would a trillion dollars do, if invested towards infrastructure, of any sort? A trillion dollars could not only cure cancer, it could turn it into ice cream. A trillion dollars could not just build high speed trains to replace our crowded airports, but create an army of robots to wash your damn car while you were away. We could do anything, if we were as dedicated to the prospect of doing anything as we were to doing nothing.

We have spent a decade -- and yes, it should be said, under the proud banner of conservatism -- doing nothing, as a nation. We have wasted our advantages, and put our own infrastructure in hock, and allowed the greediest and most crooked among us to dictate how the rest of us should live. We were told that giving money to the rich was good, and giving respite to the poor was sinful. We were told in supposedly serious books by supposedly serious men that giving up our jobs and industries would make our nation rich. We were told that our companies knew more about how to govern a nation than our citizens -- and we let them draft our laws, and lobby our government, and we squeezed the middle class at every possible opportunity. We were told many, many stupid things by people who now, by any rights, should end up on street corners wearing nothing more than rags made out of their own past pronouncements, but who sadly will never be nearly as inconvenienced by their actions as you or I have been.

We are likely about to enter a second Lost Decade, one in which the pain will be far more widespread than the first. Still, though, the shining beacons of conservative thought have little to say other than meeting at CPAC and calling people gay; the party of Goldwater or the smashingly well-spoken racist Buckley now can only find wisdom in the dimwitted buffoonery of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Joe the Plumber. We seem bound and determined not to do anything too bold, or invest in ourselves too much. We can never expect a thimbleful of apology from those that led us into this wreck, but it also seems that we also should not expect even the base acknowledgement that things have gone wrong.

It seems that in order to avoid a true Depression, we must more than anything else simply believe in investing in our own nation, as collective action. We may not even get that much.

See, that's the thing I keep trying to wrap my head around. Everything feels so goddamned fictional ... money that isn't real, a patchwork of lies and subterfuge and manipulation and sleight-of-hand ... and we didn't step up and put our collective feet down and put a stop to it. I think he hit the nail on the head when he says:

We could do anything, if we were as dedicated to the prospect of doing anything as we were to doing nothing.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Greedy Green-Eyed Middlemonster

Not that anyone with any authority whatsoever cares what I think, but I've been letting this bang around in my head like a pinball long enough. I need to put it into words.

The great overarching problem we're facing in this country is a simple one, and unless we address it, nothing we do to work around it is going to make any damn difference.

There's a big huge monster in our national basement and we need to stop feeding it. Either starve it or shoot it, but stop feeding it. I call it the greedy green-eyed middlemonster. It's that entity that stands between each one of us and what we need, and everyone who has what we need and wants to provide it, and steals from both sides while giving almost nothing of value back to either of us.

In many cases, the greedy green-eyed middlemonster was a good idea when it was born, but a complete lack of control by the people it was created to protect has turned it into a voracious beast that no longer serves any purpose but to hunger, and to threaten our existence if we don't feed it.

Let's say you bought a puppy with the intention of having it grow up to be a loyal dog who would protect your property, but instead of training it, or even supervising it, you just left it in the basement and threw food down there until it got big, hoping that it would feel some loyalty and gratitude for the kibble and come charging up the stairs in your time of need. Instead, that hell-hound grew so large it completely filled your basement. Now it's too large and cumbersome to even get up the stairs, much less care about you or your property. It lives to eat, and since you can't even begin to keep up with it's intake demand, it begins eating the foundation and the support beams to sustain itself. If you venture into the basement it's likely to devour you, too.

Health insurance seemed like a good idea, too. We'll all send you money every month and you can put it somewhere safe. You can then dole it back out to us as we need it. Since we're all sending some in, and we don't all need it back at once, you can use some of mine to help out my neighbor when he's sick and use some of his to help me out when I'm sick. And since our piddly little individual amounts won't buy much stock, you can take all or our money and invest it so it grows. You can even pay a small portion of it to yourself for the bookkeeping.

But wait! You've stopped giving any of it back! You've paid yourselves off the top and left less than half of what we gave you to pay for the stuff we gave it to you for, and now you won't even pay for that! And you've created so many rules and regulations for us and our doctors (and none at all for yourselves) that we can't afford to get a hangnail fixed out of our own pockets, and god knows YOU won't pay for it, because we've had that toe all our lives and that hangnail is pre-existing. My doctor will, of course, refer me to a health care lending company that will let me make payments to them for my care ... for a fee.

It turns out we'd have been better off taking those insurance premiums we've been paying through employers for our entire working lives and putting them in a box under the bed every month. We'd have a tidy nest-egg by now. Plenty of cash to pay the doctor a fair price for the removal of a hangnail and maybe even a Pap smear while we're at it ... and he could have his money the day he provides the service and not have to pay a phalanx of collectors to badger you into paying him a small percentage of his fee a year from now.

So, how do I feel about health care reform and private insurance? Well, I don't feel good about it.

How about those mortgage lenders? You've got a house you need to sell and someone else needs a house to live in. Note, I said LIVE IN ... not "flip" or invest in or turn over to make a profit on ... live in. In the good old days, you and I would sit down and agree on a price for your house and we'd draw up a contract-for-deed. I'd give you money every month until the house was paid for, and then you'd sign it over to me. If I didn't pay you for it you'd still own it and you could sell it to someone else. You got every dime of my money to put in your pocket and I got a house to live in. But you had to wait for your money, so mortgage lending seemed like a good idea. You could get all your money upfront and I could still make payments. Of course, I'd have to pay a little interest fee to the broker so he could make a living, but it was a small amount over a long time, so that wasn't a big hardship.

But, wait! Now you and I never meet! Your people talk to my people who all talk to people neither of us ever see, and we both pay all those people to negotiate this deal for us. Even then, the people we deal with aren't really the people we deal with. Those people are far, far away and have never even been to our neighborhood, but they decide what your house is worth and whether I'm worthy of buying it. They sell me a promissory note and then they sell that promissory note a half dozen more times, and by the time I've actually paid for your house I've paid half again the price we agreed on. You didn't get that money, did you? No, I didn't think so.

If you want a car you have to talk to a bank. If you want a new roof you have to talk to a bank. If you want to fix up your bathroom you have to talk to a bank. I've never seen a bank with a car lot attached to it or a pile of shingles or toilets out back, but they're still the place you have to go if you want those things, and they're going to take a big chunk out of the price of that car or those shingles or that toilet in order for you to have them and the car and shingle and toilet guys to sell them to you.

There's something really wrong with this picture, and what we here in Nowhere can't understand is why nobody minds. Why are we not all standing in front of banks and insurance companies and large corporate headquarters with pitchforks and buckets of hot tar? Why do we accept that our government feels it's so vital to keep feeding these voracious middlemonsters? What's the worst that would happen if we didn't?

We might have to go back to a real free enterprise system. We might have to deal with each other. We might have to buy our books from little bookstores and drink our coffee in little coffee shops and eat our meals in little restaurants. We might have to shake hands to buy a car or a house. We might have to save our money. We might have to make payments to our doctor for services rendered ... and not pay a finance charge, just pay his damn bill on time.

We might have to save our money for big-ticket items and then pay a fair market price for them right up front. Or we might have to put them on lay-away. Does anyone remember lay-away???

Here in Nowhere we're about as close to being off the financial grid as you can be these days. We don't have a car payment, a mortgage or a single credit card. Ev does have health insurance, but it's a joke. She works for the largest health care provider in Southern Illinois and her own company health insurance has to be strong-armed into paying a bill to the hospital she works in ... the place that actually takes the money OUT of her paycheck every month for health insurance. This is just nuts, people.

None of this is benefiting people. It's not benefiting the supply side and it's not benefiting the demand side. It's benefiting the corporations that stand between the supply side and the demand side and preventing them from having anything but a passing acquaintance with one another.

And don't even get me started on farms vs agribusiness.

I don't want government regulations at this point. I want the whole damn thing to collapse and fail. I want insurance companies to go belly up. I want banks to fold like cheap suits. I want CitiGroup to crumble back into the non-conglomerated business it was created from. And then I want people who have something to sell to have to court the people who BUY it, and I want them to charge a fair fucking price for it. I want some power as a consumer.

I'm sick and tired of corporations putting pressure on the government to contrive to turn things that I "need" into things I can't survive without or am mandated by law to acquire and then contriving ways to charge me for them while simultaneously withholding them from me.

I want to buy my food from the people who produce it and buy my books from a little old dude in a quaint bookshop and eat my dinner in a restaurant that only exists in one location ... where the family that owns it lives and works and cooks actual food and employs the local high school kids to wait tables. I want my tax dollars to go to things that benefit the whole ... like a road that won't break my shocks or a school that actually teaches something or a power line that doesn't snap in a light breeze. I want the money I pay someone for a service (like insuring that I will get needed health care when the fuck I need it) to actually be given back to me when I need it, and I don't want to be treated like a thief for asking for it.

Oh. And I want people who want to come and live and work here and have a better life to be able to come and live and work here and have a better life. It would be extra nice if we actually had a better life to offer them ... and ourselves.

Is this so much to ask in the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Friday, March 06, 2009

No Puppy Pictures Today Either.

I haven't posted a blog post in a month. There are a couple of good reasons for that:

1. I don't have much to say.
2. I recently became aware of the fact that actual people read this blog. Not just our usual friends, family and stalkers, I'm talking about real people who could be doing real things but instead choose to piss away their waking hours here.

Obviously that's more of a commitment than I signed on for.

But here at 3 a.m. on the night before my only day off this week, on a day in which I'll be sending my oldest child out into the world (again!), I felt a need to say...something.

"Something" would include worrying. I worry about the kids, and I worry that I'll never get enough emotional distance to stop worrying about them. I worry about the lump in Lori's arm and her bad back. I worry about the crappy economy, the unfair economic hand the middle class has been dealt, the sorry state of my 401k, and the impact on the kids (who I've vowed to worry about less). I worry that we'll work until one or the other of us drops dead, and all that working and worrying will be for naught.

Mostly, I worry that there are too many balls in the air for us normal folks to juggle, and that the only safety net we have is ourselves.

I don't have a nice picture of the puppy to post but Lori's planning to buy a new camera this weekend to replace the one that crapped out. But it doesn't matter anyway...I'm not in a puppy-picture mood. I'm in a circle-the-wagons, move-to-the-country-and-grow-your-own-vegetables-and-live-like-the-Unabomber mood.

When the sun comes out and the world looks brighter I plan to feel better. But for now...I worry. I hope your winter is smoother.