At the Epicenter

New York City is the epicenter of coronavirus death. 

I don’t want your pity.  The reality is that the vast majority of us haven’t even gotten sick.  We’re carrying on, as best as anyone can.

I also wish you wouldn’t gloat.  Not because it hurts my feelings, but because we don’t fully understand what’s happening, and while you’re not suffering now, your turn may come next week, next month, or next winter.  For my part, I believe the explosion of Covid in the city means that we are taking our pain now, and any future outbreaks will be less severe.

New York City has been a big, densely packed, dirty city for over 150 years.  Its character as such is independent of the politics of whoever may be Mayor or Governor.  While we can fault our leadership for what they might or might not do, the essential character of New York City, and consequent risk of disease, is a fact of life and not the politicians’ fault.

Much has been written about the subway as a vector for the coronavirus.  Uncle Andy, last week, ordered the subways closed late at night for cleaning.  While that may make some people feel good, it won’t change much.  The trains and stations were cleaned periodically even before Covid, and an enhanced cleaning regime, in itself, doesn’t require the system to be shut down.  The only difference the nighttime shutdown makes is that the homeless will be chased off the trains for a few hours every night.  But while the subway almost certainly had a role in spreading the virus through the city, blaming the spread of the virus, and the death toll, on the subway seems a bit simplistic.

Over the last week, I’ve pulled together data from various places:

PopulationCasesper 1000Deathsper 1000
NYC and vicinity:
NYC8,399,000174,70920.8019,5402.33
Westchester/NY968,81530,70831.701,3051.35
Nassau/NY1,356,56437,59327.712,3401.72
Suffolk/NY1,487,90135,89224.121,5471.04
Hudson/NJ672,39115,76923.458451.26
Essex/NJ (Newark)798,97514,52118.171,2821.60
Other US cities:
Detroit672,6629,38613.951,0851.61
DC702,4555,0167.142510.36
Orleans/LA (New Orleans)391,0066,54816.754411.13
Philadelphia1,584,06415,1379.566380.40
Allegheny/PA (Pittsburgh)1,216,0451,3451.111020.08
Cook/IL (Chicago)5,150,23343,7158.491,6730.32
Los Angeles/CA10,040,00026,2172.611,2560.13
King/WA (Seattle)2,252,7826,5452.914630.21
NY/NJ vs other states
New York State19,453,561330,40716.9826,2431.35
New Jersey State8,882,190135,84015.298,9601.01
Other 48 + DC299,903,772817,4012.7341,9630.14
Europe
London UK8,982,00018,0002.005,2310.58
Ile de France (Paris) FR12,210,00023,7571.956,1160.50
Madrid ES6,642,00062,9899.488,4201.27
Stockholm SE974,0738,5368.761,288 (1)1.32
Coronavirus in Various Places

Note 1: Estimated.  I don’t have a death toll for Stockholm by itself, but Stockholm has less than 10% of the population of Sweden, and about a third of the reported coronavirus cases.  I’ll overestimate a bit and presume that it has 40% of Sweden’s reported 3,220 coronavirus deaths.

These figures were captured at various times last week, and not all on the same day. 

For the moment, let’s focus on the death tolls: the number of reported cases depends on the availability of testing, which is more a function of politics than biology.  But dead is dead, even though politics figures here, too: about 1/4 of New York City’s dead are ‘probable’ as opposed to ‘confirmed’ Covid cases.  Nevertheless, we have to start somewhere.

The next highest city after NYC, in terms of Covid death rate, is Detroit.  But Detroit has no subway, and having suffered a great loss of population, is nowhere near as dense.  The places with comparable death rates are all in the suburbs of NYC.  Is the virus somehow wafting out of the city itself?  Do commuter trains have a role to play?

Looking at other American cities, there doesn’t seem to be much correlation.  Philadelphia, DC, Chicago, and Los Angeles all have subway systems, but have lower death rates.  In fairness, their subways are not as extensive as New York’s.  Meanwhile, New Orleans has no subway, but a higher death rate.

And all the European cities have extensive subway systems, but lower death rates, even Stockholm, which has refrained from the lockdowns in effect pretty much everywhere else.

Meanwhile, I’m also compelled to wonder about the wisdom of locking everything down.  It was OK as emergency measure before we knew quite what would happen.  But as a policy, I suspect that it only nibbles around the edges in terms of limiting the spread of the virus.

When this emergency passes, we need to calmly analyze and identify the factors that led to the rapid spread of Covid in NYC and other hot spots around the country and around the world.  And while it’s easy to blame the politicians or the subway, I suspect the reality will be a bit different.

Uncle Andy’s Four-Phase Plan

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo released a four-phase plan by which businesses in New York State would reopen as the coronavirus threat passed:

  • Phase 1: Manufacturing, construction, curbside pickup for retail;
  • Phase 2: Retail, professional services, real estate;
  • Phase 3: Hotels and restaurants;
  • Phase 4: Schools, arts, recreation, and entertainment.

The state has been divided into ten regions for the purpose, with reopening in each region, and advancement through the phases, consistent on meeting a set of metrics.  Most of the metrics relate to hospital usage, which makes sense, although some of the thresholds seem arbitrary.  The threshold is a minimum 30% available hospital beds and intensive care beds, which most of the state passes, but if the threshold were 20%, the entire state would pass.

The one metric that worries me is the need for contact tracers.  The virus was spreading for a month and a half before it was determined to be an emergency: contact tracing now seems pointless and silly. 

Nevertheless, under the plan, there need to be a minimum of 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents: New York City will need over 2500.  Organizing and training a force of that size will be at least a three-month project.  Are we to remain on lockdown until then?

More worrisome is the authority to be vested in these contact tracers.  Will they have the authority to compel people to be tested?  To separate people from their families for isolation (as is happening in California)?  To compel answers to, ‘Are you now or have you ever been…’ or ‘Tell us about your friends and associates…’?

The only thing that such an effort would appear to accomplish is practice for a new Stasi whose authority, in the name of public health, would extend beyond biological viruses to embrace improper thoughts and improper speech.  That may be unconstitutional, but what the hey: it’s an emergency.

When I first read about the plan, I expected that we might be reopening in a few weeks.  I thought my work life would get back to normal in 4-6 weeks, and my wife and I would be able to enjoy dinner out in maybe 6-8 weeks.  Live baseball this summer, alas, would be a lost cause.  But if New York City will not come off ‘pause’ until we have 2500 contract tracers on staff, fully trained and ready to go, it will be a much longer wait.

I sure hope Uncle Andy reconsiders. And it’s disgusting, but right now, that’s all I can do.

*          *          *

Since the 1960s, when young men ran off to escape the military draft, the notion of running off to Canada to elude whatever turmoil the US was suffering has been with us.  It’s crossed my mind a couple of times, never very seriously, the last time in 2004 when President Bush was re-elected.

Now, in the name of public health, our liberties are basically gone.  Yes, there’s still freedom of speech, but only over the Internet, open to government monitoring.  Yes, there’s still freedom of religion–you can believe whatever you want—but all the churches are closed.

Alas, escaping to Canada won’t help.  They’re just as bad as we are.

Asbestos and Corona

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral, found in nature, which was for many years used for fireproofing and other thermal insulation.  It’s still one of the best thermal insulators known.  But asbestos fibers, when inhaled, lead to cancer and other lung diseases.  Asbestos has been the subject of vast litigation, and there is an industry built around the removal or abatement of asbestos.

The incidence of disease and death from asbestos has a random character.  In the time before the danger of asbestos was widely recognized, some people worked around asbestos their entire lives with no ill effect; others fell deathly ill over the course of a summer internship at the asbestos plant.  Most cases, though, involved repeated exposure over time.

Today, the discipline and procedures of asbestos abatement are built around the premise that the danger of asbestos is not random.  The probability of disease on exposure to asbestos above the ‘safe level’ is presumed to be unity, i.e. the stuff is presumed to be lethal.  Workers tasked with asbestos abatement must wear protective clothing and masks, and special arrangements are made to ventilate the work area and prevent asbestos fibers from escaping outside.

In an industrial environment, these rules make sense.  Employers are required to provide a safe work environment, providing training and protection against hazards in the workplace.  It would not be OK for an employer to pass the risk of illness of an incomplete protective regime to his employees, even with their informed consent.

But this character of randomness associated with asbestos applies to other agents in the environment, including tobacco and (this season’s favorite!) viral exposure.

Last week, 60 Minutes ran a segment on the military’s response to coronavirus.  The military had to develop policies and procedures on the spot as the threat emerged, without data on how deadly the virus might be or its propagation.  The result was a regime similar to asbestos abatement: the virus is presumed to be deadly wherever it might appear, and anyone not known to be safe is presumed to carry it.  Social distancing (‘tactical dispersion’) and hygiene procedures are ruthless.

And for the military, these rules make sense.  The first mission of the military is to be ready to carry out whatever other missions may be necessary, and being inconvenienced is part of military life.

But is this approach the right one for the rest of us?

What we are starting to know now from data is what many of us suspected in February: Covid-19 is similar to the seasonal flu.  It spreads almost as broadly as the seasonal flu, and while it is more serious than the seasonal flu, it’s not so deadly as to merit panic.

*          *          *

Prospect Park on a Saturday Afternoon

Yesterday, my wife and I bought lunch in a local pizzeria and enjoyed it al fresco in Prospect Park.  We took off our masks to eat and watched the people go by.  It was a glorious day: the first real spring day this season.  The park seemed busier than a normal Saturday: with everything else closed, what else was there?  We took a long walk, and when I got home, I realized I had a little sunburn.  It felt good.

Families hung out together in the park, but otherwise people were reasonably distancing themselves.  But I’m compelled to wonder: if you pass within eight feet of, say, 1,000 people, are you really safer than sitting six feet from four or five people in a subway car?

Were we taking our lives in our hands enjoying a sunny day in the park?  Even knowing about the virus, I find that really hard to believe.

Let’s End This

One of the reasons I don’t write more regularly is that I don’t like to repeat myself.  Too much of what I read on current affairs is people banging the same drum about systemic racism, or taxation being theft, or whatever.

But I’ll repeat myself a bit here.

We need to end this emergency soon.

The virus is a force of nature at this point: the government cannot protect us from it.  The one thing that the government might be able to do is forestall a disaster such as happened in China, Italy, and Spain, where so many people got sick at once as to overwhelm the health care system.  It doesn’t take that many people for that to happen: if 1% of a community got sick and descended on its hospitals all at once, the result would be worse than anything seen so far.

That, fortunately, hasn’t happened, although for a handful of New York City hospitals, it got close.  The number of new cases is starting to level off, and the number of hospitalizations is dropping, never having gotten close to the available space.  The Navy hospital ship Comfort, having arrived in New York City at the end of March to supplement available hospital space, is leaving, having treated a grand total of 179.

About a week ago, Governor Cuomo extended the emergency two weeks, to 15 May.  And if current trends hold, that’s a good place to start.  I don’t expect all the restrictions to be lifted at once, and even if they were, the public would likely still avoid large gatherings like sporting events. But I’m hoping that a month from now, I can take my wife to dinner.

Every state is different, and under our republic, decisions like this are made on the state level.  New York has suffered, and is recovering, but for other states, the worst may be yet to come.  And for some states, ‘the worst’ may not be that severe to begin with.

43 of the 50 states implemented some form of stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus.  At the time, we weren’t sure what would happen.  We didn’t have, as I sometimes like to say at work, the dimensions of the problem.

Meanwhile, there are the seven states, and Sweden, that didn’t force everyone to stay at home.  Most of the states in question are sparsely populated, but Sweden isn’t that sparse, and has some major cities.  Even though they didn’t have Uncle Andy’s guidance, they didn’t get whomped like New York City. 

Our understanding now is still incomplete, but way better than what we had a month ago.  To those who say, ‘the science should determine when it’s safe to reopen,’ I’m compelled to point out that any decision of this nature is an exercise in risks and statistics.  (Statistics is a science, too!)  Even deciding to wait for a vaccine is a statistical exercise, one that should properly consider the secondary effects of prolonging the emergency for another year.

So now is a good time to think about lifting the restrictions we’ve been under for the past month, based on the facts on the ground.  Mid-May is a good place to start for New York; other places might take longer, and some may be ready to restart, taking baby steps at first, now.

Let’s get our dignity back, and get back to work.

Life Goes On

The father of a friend and colleague passed away from the effects of Covid-19 about two weeks ago.  I’m sorry for my friend and what he has suffered.

I was working with him on site last week, and I felt it best not to talk about the coronavirus or the current emergency.  My friend had his professional demeanor back, but it clearly wasn’t the time.

I’ve remarked in these pages (in brief) that the danger of the coronavirus, while real, has been overblown and used for political purposes.  But am I wrong to believe that?  Is it cruel and heartless, given that people are dying? 

The virus, at this point, is a force of nature.  It doesn’t care what we think or say about it.  We can’t control it.  We can only try to conduct ourselves to moderate its effects.

But we need to be mindful that our efforts to moderate the virus have their own effects.   While they may not be as lethal as the coronavirus, they bring their own pain and suffering.  And to say those effects don’t matter ‘because people are dying’ is the worst kind of virtue signalling.

Death hurts.  But life must go on.

*          *          *

Washington Square Park

Last Sunday, my wife and I went to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, wearing masks made from matching bandanas.

There were fewer people in the park than a normal springtime Sunday, and people were reasonably distancing themselves, but it felt, for once, normal.  A couple of musicians were playing.  We sat on a bench, listened to the music, and contemplated the scene.  It felt good.

Musicians in Washington Square Park

Are We There Yet?

Back on St. Patrick’s Day, when the emergency was clanging down on us (it must be really dire to close the bars for St. Patrick’s Day!), I took the semi-wild guess that the emergency would last between six and eight weeks.  Now that we’re about halfway through, I’m contemplating how the emergency might end.

Three scenarios come to mind.  But before I examine them, I’ll share some basic assumptions:

  • Whatever the virus’s origins, it is now a force of nature, and will not take instructions from us.
  • Its spread cannot be stopped, only moderated.
  • In the long term, it will become part of the biological landscape.  It cannot be mopped up and sent back to China.

With that in mind:

Scenario One: Flatten the Curve and Be Done with It

If we take the premise that this business of shutting everything down was merely to ‘flatten the curve’ and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed, then in another 3-5 weeks, the number of new cases should be small enough that we can start easing the restrictions.

We can let most businesses open, including (perhaps especially!) restaurants, although large public gatherings like sporting events and rock concerts will still have to wait.  I’d hope for at least Minor League Baseball (with its smaller venues) this summer.

We can expect testing of sample populations to get a better handle on how the virus has already spread.  However, the decision would necessarily be a judgement call, and entail some measure of risk.  Also, while the testing and setting of guidelines may be Federal endeavors, the restrictions we have now are set on the state level, and will have to be released the same way.  That’s how we’re set up in our republic.

The virus will indeed spread more readily when restrictions are eased: there will be an increase in the number of new cases, and some people will die as a result, who wouldn’t have died under the other scenarios (at least not from Covid).  But because many more people will have already been exposed, the increase will be more modest.

Scenario Two: Test Everyone

If we deem the risk of more new cases to be unacceptable, the next approach would be to test the entire population so that the virus can be tracked absolutely.  This would be a vast enterprise and would take at least 3-4 months.

I’m also not clear on what would happen.  Since I haven’t been seriously ill since the beginning of 2018, if I were tested, I’d expect one of two results:

  • I’m negative.  Would that mean that I’d remain under the quasi-lockdown while others got back to work?  Given the choice, I’d prefer to go forth in the world and take my chances.
  • I have antibodies, which means that I’ve been exposed, but haven’t gotten sick:  I had a brief but nasty bout with flu-like symptoms early in February.  I skipped a couple of gym sessions but otherwise held together.  Maybe that was Covid?  I don’t know.  In any case, if I’ve been exposed, the authorities would then presumably chase through my associates to see how I might have been exposed, or whom I might have exposed.

And what happens if I have antibodies and my wife is negative (or vice versa)?  Will one of us have to move out of the house so the other can be isolated?

The coronavirus is not Ebola.  It spreads rapidly, to the point where contact tracing—especially after the fact—is pointless and silly.  Attempting to trace anyway is also an invasion of our civil liberties.  And doing so sets the precedent for the next emergency (viral or otherwise).

After all, never let a crisis go to waste.

Scenario Three: Vaccinate

If we’re not willing to accept the risk of simply going back to business, and trying to track everyone’s status with the virus isn’t practical, then the third alternative is to wait for a vaccine.  In the very best case, a vaccine might be ready late this year or early next year.

But, given the choice, would I get vaccinated?  My wife and I don’t get flu shots, and from what I know now about coronavirus and Covid, I’d be genuinely reluctant to get a shot of a hastily-thrown-together brew of God knows what.  Then again, if the choice were to get the shot or stay locked up at home, that might be different.

I’ve reviewed the stay-at-home orders put forth by various communities, and they all, so far, admit going out for exercise while maintaining social distancing from others.  A new and improved version, to encourage vaccination, might reconsider this proviso, requiring the unvaccinated and unexposed to stay at home.

If it came to that, and we all decided to get the shot, the emergency would likely be over sometime next year.

But I don’t think we have a year.

I came across an interesting datum the other day.  Since the coronavirus crisis began, ridership on the New York subways is down 92%.  Crime in the subways is down… wait for it… by only 3%.  The people who earn their living through crime are presumably mostly young and healthy, still need to earn a living, and aren’t deterred by Uncle Andy telling them to stay home.

We’re only a little way into this emergency, and people aren’t desperate… yet.  But that will change after a couple of months.  Moreover, other people who aren’t desperate at that point will come to resent the government for continuing what appear to be unnecessary restrictions, and may want to take matters into their own hands.

If the emergency continues for more than a couple of months from now, I expect that there will be violence, first in the relatively small-scale crimes of the desperate, but getting worse.

A colleague sent me a meme about ending the emergency by Independence Day, 4 July.  That seems a practical threshold, as much for the meaning of Independence Day as for the time span between now and then.  If we are not back to enjoying our essential freedoms by Independence Day, we should presume that it will be a long, long wait.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I hope to God we end up following the first scenario.  We need our freedom and our dignity far more than we need some incremental (and more than likely illusory) safety.

Social Distancing

Social Distancing

The rule seems simple enough: stay at least six feet away from other people.

But nothing is ever as easy as it seems:

  • I thought social distancing applies only to people who aren’t members of your own household.  If my life had turned out differently, and I had six children who still lived with me, my wife, my kids, and I could all go out together.  As it stands, I go out for a walk with my wife pretty much every afternoon, walking hand in hand as often as not.  Am I doing something wrong?
  • I’m still not clear as to whether ‘six feet’ means six feet on center (what you’d get if drew lines on the sidewalk six feet apart and had people stand on them) or six feet extremity to extremity.  The graphic (above) that’s appeared in my apartment building suggests that it’s six feet on center, but walking down the street, it’s easier to assess extremity to extremity (is any part of another person closer than six feet to me?).
  • If you’re on the sidewalk in motion, and someone approaches in the opposite direction, what do you do?  I will try to maneuver to keep as much space as practical, slowing down or speeding up if a stretch of sidewalk is particularly narrow.  But it seems excessive to cross into the street to avoid a momentary violation of the six-foot threshold.  It seems really excessive to stick out a tape measure and poke others in the ribs.

I’m asking having seen videos of the horrors of ‘people in public spaces not social distancing’ which typically show people in a park, walking and enjoying a sunny day, for the most part keeping reasonable distances, with some couples or small groups staying together.  Are the people who photograph and post these videos genuinely concerned for the public health, or resentful that somewhere, somehow, people might be enjoying themselves?

And what about couples who aren’t married and aren’t living together?  The executive order states, ‘Non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason (e.g. parties, celebrations or other social events) are canceled or postponed at this time,’ which would seem to include dates.  But who is Uncle Andy to stand in the path of true love?

In another time, I wouldn’t give rules like this a second thought.  But in another time, we wouldn’t have rules like this at all.

Dr. Bob, years ago, said that ‘rules are made for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.’  I’ll take the rules in that spirit.  I’ll endeavor to keep my distance, but won’t yell at people for violating my Sacred Bubble.  I’ll wait for the next elevator (or maybe take the stairs) but won’t wait for the next subway train.  And I had a girlfriend but not a wife, I would be more than happy to go on a date (such as one can with the restaurants and theatres closed) with said girlfriend, Uncle Andy’s admonitions notwithstanding.

19 Days Later

Every day, I gird myself to watch the news.  I stopped needing to look at the Johns Hopkins dashboard when the United States topped the list.  We’re number one: there isn’t much more to say.  There now more dead in New York City than China will admit to in the whole country.

But while the news media is still in the mode of ‘get ready to die next week,’ the reality is a bit different.  Most of us are alive and well, and not coughing.

More than anything, it’s weird:

  • The supply chains have recovered from the initial jolt, and the stores are pretty-well stocked again, except maybe for disinfectants and hand sanitizer.  But there’s a line to get in the local Trader Joe’s that stretches (with everyone observing six-foot social distancing) down the block and sometimes around the corner.  It’s usually a 40-60-minute wait.  Some of the other local stores also have queues waiting outside.
  • Buses creep me out.  The driver pulls up and you get on in the middle of the bus, through what’s usually the exit door.  The MTA has given up on collecting fares, so the ride is free, and the front of the bus is roped off.  Signage in the bus reminds us that ‘buses are for essential travel only.’  I’d skip the buses entirely, but the creepiness doesn’t bother my wife, and I go out with her to do shopping a couple of times a week.
  • The subway trains now run every 20 minutes (the usual schedule for the middle of the night) 24 hours a day.  Ridership is still very light: one can almost, but not quite, maintain the six-foot spread on the train.  I find myself walking out of the home or office, checking when the next train will show up, and then walking one or two stations to catch it so that I’m not standing on the platform, waiting.
  • And yes, I do have to ride the train.  My business has been deemed ‘essential,’ and I still have to perform on-site testing.  I don’t really have to go to the office, but it’s convenient to the field sites, and I’m usually more productive there than at home.  (I’m also sure that I’m annoying my wife when I have video conferences and go running off at the mouth, but so far, she seems to understand.)  Life at the office has gotten especially weird:
    • There’s no heat or hot water in the building.
    • In normal times, there are a galaxy of choices for lunch.  No more:
      • Most of my usual choices have closed for the duration.
      • The Chopt salad place near my office closed, but there’s another one nearby.  However, you can’t go there and order a salad: you have to use their app or Web site.  I did it once and saw why: the store itself is roped off: you go to the vestibule, state your name, and the staffer hands over the bag.  There isn’t even a credit card machine: you have to have paid in advance.  Alas, it isn’t the same as when the guy is tossing the salad in front of you and you can tweak up your salad (‘a little more dressing’) on the spot.
      • One of the essential charms of McDonald’s is the fountain sodas, big and icy.  But when I went to the McDonald’s near my office, I was told, ‘no soda.’  I have cans of soda in my office, but it isn’t the same.  Perhaps one of the other McDonald’s near my office still has a working soda fountain.
      • The Chick-Fil-A near my office, two weeks ago, had markers taped on the floor to remind everyone of the need to keep six feet apart.  A week ago, the markers were removed, but there were hardly any customers: Governor Cuomo had halted work at ‘non-essential’ construction sites, and that was much of their market.  The next day, they were closed.
    • After I bring my lunch back to the office and eat it, I have to take the wrappings out and pitch them in a litter basket in the street: the lady who usually comes to the office to empty the baskets and occasionally vacuum is gone for the duration, too.
    • Even an afternoon snack has become a production.  Most of the Dunkins near my office are closed.  Needing a snack, I went to nearby drugstore for a candy bar.  But the racks of sweets near the cashiers have been removed: I guess single candy bars are not hygienic.
  • At the beginning of March, New York State banned single-use plastic bags to carry goods purchased at most retail stores.  But they’ve made a comeback.  I’m told that San Francisco, which banned plastic bags in favor of reusable bags over a decade ago, has reversed themselves: reusable bags are now forbidden.

In recent days, we’re being told that we’ve turned a corner, and the number of new cases is abating.  On the other hand, there are others telling us that the emergency will last all summer.  On St. Patrick’s Day, when all the restaurants and bars were closed, I estimated the emergency would last 6-8 weeks.  We’re now about halfway through that, and it seems about right, today.

Next week is anyone’s guess.

Coronavirus

I’ll get the stupid stuff out of the way first:

  • No, you can’t get the virus from drinking Mexican beer.  But it’s OK to ask that question, once: stranger things have happened.
  • I’ve heard so much about the coronavirus that I’m sick of it, in and of itself, so I’ve started to call it the Dos Equis virus.
  • When we have a Pacífico virus, then I’ll start worrying.
  • ‘Covid-19’ is a stupid name:
    • When I first heard it, I thought of ‘Product 19,’ a Kellogg’s breakfast cereal with a full day’s vitamins in one serving.  We had it in my house when I was a kid: it was a dreary part of dreary school mornings.
    • ‘Covid’ sounds like a brand of motor oil: ‘Covid-19 keeps your engine clean.’

And the less-stupid stuff:

  • I remember the Hong Kong flu and the Sydney flu, so I really can’t get upset with someone calling this year’s disease the ‘Wuhan flu’ or ‘China flu.’
  • When the virus started making the news, my wife said she didn’t want to go to Chinatown for dim sum, formerly one of our favorite weekend lunches.  I tried to talk her into going, but I didn’t really feel like dim sum either.  It isn’t racism, just the power of an unpleasant association.
  • I still go to the local Chinese takeout place.
  • Last week, when the gyms were still open, I had had a bellyful of bad news watching the morning news programs, so I switched to the other side of the gym, where the TVs were tuned to ESPN and the sports channels.  At the end of last week, I wondered what they would do now that sporting events around the US and around the world had been cancelled.  At this point, the gyms are all closed, so it doesn’t matter.

Trying to be a little more serious:

  • I always imagine that when some emergency happens, I’ll be able to settle down and work in peace, or maybe turn my attention to something I’ve wanted to do and never had the time.  But that never happened.  Past emergencies (snowstorms, hurricanes) have lasted less than a week, and I was overtaken by the need to find out about, and fuss over, the emergency.  I need to get past that, this time.
  • I’m feeling OK as I write this, except for the lingering tension of worrying what might happen.  At this point, that seems worse than the actual virus.
  • Last week, I regularly visited the Johns Hopkins coronavirus dashboard.  Now I avoid it.  I look maybe twice a day, and I’m trying to drop it entirely.  It just adds to the tension.

*          *          *

Last Sunday, my wife and I went to a restaurant for lunch.  She had particularly wanted to go on Sunday for the live music.  The guitarist was there, but we were the only customers.  He played, and we talked and laughed and sang.  I got a little bit drunk.  I think we needed that.

And then, about a half-hour later, I got a phone call from work.  I steeled myself to deliver a competent answer.  Life is never easy.

*          *          *

Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I did some shopping.  We went to the Korean supermarket on 32nd Street and a nearby drugstore.  There are no paper goods, hand sanitizer, or disinfectants to be had, but everything else is pretty much there.

One of the Korean restaurants now limited to takeout was offering a ‘Care Package:’ for $149 (roughly the same as their menu price) they would pack up a Korean barbecue dinner (with raw meat to be grilled at the destination) and the essential garnishes and side dishes.

Samwon Garden Care Package

I was in good spirits, until I opened my email and got correspondence about Governor Handy Andy’s latest restrictions.  After decreeing that 50% of employees had to work from home, then 75%, he has gone all the way: all non-essential businesses shall be closed.  Public transit will remain in operation, but is to be avoided:

Individuals should limit use of public transportation to when absolutely necessary and should limit potential exposure by spacing out at least six feet from other riders;

The program has a cutesy name: New York State on PAUSE (Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone).  I get annoyed with cute names for serious business, as well as laws named after little girls.

My particular business, as I read the rules, is deemed essential, so I can go in to work, although I should probably take my bicycle instead of the subway.  Nevertheless, I’m working from home when I can: after being overjoyed at consistently being able to get a seat on the subway, even during the rush hour, now I’m a bit creeped out.

I get the idea: with the number of cases skyrocketing, it’s more important to try to maintain isolation.  Still, the news is a punch in the gut.  (I could plumb the numbers further: I’m an engineer: it’s what I do.  But not today.)

And yet, I wonder: we’ve been told that we should be welcoming of all people, that referring to Covid as a ‘Chinese virus’ is racist, and that diversity is our strength.  Yet the current set of rules seem to pit us all against each other, warning that any stranger within six feet is a potential disease carrier and bringer of illness and death.

For my part, I find myself being overly nice (or at least nicer than usual) to the people I have to interact with in my travels: we are, after all, all in this together.

salaries not what they were

So I have recently discussed my job hunting, which has its highs and low. I discussed a questionable job that was eventually rescinded and after that I was offered a job I turned down because it was part time with no benefits, not many hours a week, and required a round trip of over an hour to work 3-4 hours. Even though I need money, something doesn’t seem right so I turned it down. Plus in the second interview the one guy yelled at me for answering something what he considered wrong.

Brings me up to now. I got a call for a marketing job and am going on my third interview on Friday where she wants me to meet her boss. It’s looking good plus they reached out to me and on top of it she told me another department wants me too! The place has good benefits for the most part (no pension but who does anymore?). However, the salary is so-so. I mean it’s not bad, but I’m not entry level and it’s less than I made 15 years ago. This is my big issue with almost all jobs now, most seem to be paying what I saw many years ago. One job that interviewed me 15 years ago wanted to interviewed me now and are actually paying LESS than 15 years ago! I see this often, I don’t see jobs even paying $40,000 now, heck I am happy to interview for jobs paying $32,0000 now, though I made more years ago. Years ago I hung up on places offering me “just” $35,000 and now would be jumping through hoops to make that. if I am offered this job (which does pay more then $32,000 plus benefits) of course I’ll take it, but it seems we are regressing with salaries which is sad.

The Kevlar Bubble

 “Deficits don’t matter,” we were told in the 1980s, as the Reagan Administration started running what seemed at the time to be huge budget deficits ($200 billion!) to defeat the Russians.  We had seen much smaller deficits associated with price inflation in the 1970s (‘too much money chasing the same goods’), but were told not to worry.

Remarkably, it seemed to work.  The Russians were defeated (although, in fairness, the Reagan defense buildup had relatively little to do with it), the economy generally prospered, and prices for consumer goods remained stable.  The Federal deficit moderated, and even came close to running a surplus in the late 1990s.

But since the turn of the century, the government has been running larger and larger deficits.  Under the Bush (43) administration, deficits ran around a half-trillion dollars per year, and the Obama administration introduced the trillion-dollar deficit.  President Trump campaigned that he would not only eliminate the deficit, but would retire the entire debt in eight years.  (In fairness, that was one campaign promise I didn’t take very seriously.)  In fact, deficits under Trump have gone back into trillion-dollar territory.

And yet price inflation has been moderate.  Yes, the government figures understate the case.  But while today’s Federal deficits, as a percentage of GDP, are at least twice what they were in the 1970s, real price inflation has been less severe.  What happened?

One of the most basic equations of economics is:

MV=PQ

where:

  • M is the quantity of money in the system
  • V is the velocity with which money changes hands
  • P is a price index
  • Q is the value of goods and services transacted (in some unit of measure unaffected by transient price changes)

So, since about 2000, M has gone way, way up; Q has stagnated, rising very slowly; P has gone up moderately.  V, in consequence, has dropped like a rock.  Money doesn’t change hands like it used to.  It disappears out of the economy almost as fast as it’s created.  How does that happen?

For starters, every year, there are roughly $700 billion in imports that have no corresponding export.  Once one of those dollars leaves the country, it isn’t coming back.  That, in itself, will make a big dent in the effects of a trillion-dollar Federal budget deficit.

Perhaps a bigger factor is the inequality that has overtaken the American economy since 2000.  Another place the money can go to have no further effect for ordinary people is into the pockets of the very, very rich. The rich have relatively little need for consumer goods (how many Lamborghinis can one drive at once?) but will seek to invest their new-found gains to at least preserve their value.  So the stock market rises, independent of the productive values of the corporations on it, and real estate goes up, which causes some incidental problems for ordinary people who want to live in places like New York and San Francisco, but nothing major.

Yes, it’s a bubble.  Bubbles usually pop when people realize that the object of the bubble isn’t returning value and they want their money back.  But the essential difference this time is that the money won’t stop.  As long as there are huge new debts, the money has to go somewhere.  This bubble is made of Kevlar, and so far, is puncture-proof.

About 30 years ago, I read The Great Depression of 1990 by Ravi Batra.  At the time, its essential premise seemed ludicrous: that the very rich would suck all the money out of the economy and impoverish the rest of us.  Yet that’s exactly what’s happening now.  The vast Federal deficits, nominally intended to help the people, are in fact helping the very rich become even richer.

Yet it works, for now.  The Federal government borrows money that doesn’t exist; the money passes through ordinary people, but doesn’t really circulate very much before it ends up in the hands of a big bank and its owners, who effectively sequester it so it can’t do any further damage in terms of price inflation, or the money simply leaves the country, never to return.

It’s a delicate balance.  If you cut budget deficits, suddenly banks and big corporations would have to work for a living, and the stock market would plummet.  If people became more prosperous and traded among themselves, rather than buying imports, money wouldn’t be flushed out, and prices would rise.  And if, as some of the Democratic candidates for President imagine, you mobilize millions of people and pay them union wages to go out and fix climate change, they will find that their new paychecks won’t actually buy very much.

A while back, I entertained in these pages the notion that the economy we experienced was a simulation of sorts that had become divorced from the economy of the stock market and the Federal government.  No, it’s not quite a simulation, but it’s pretty close.

It Would Be Simpler If We Would All Just Die

Time magazine recently designated Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage wokescold, their Person of the Year for 2019.  It really isn’t surprising: the title seems to have always been based on notoriety rather than merit: past designees have included Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Watching Greta’s speech at the United Nations, I could barely get through twenty seconds without bursting out in laughter.  Perhaps she meant to be deadly serious, but it came across as overwrought and silly.

I’ve always been a bit skeptical about global warming, or climate change, or whatever they’re calling it this week.  The basic premise—that human activity is putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than natural systems can take out—is beyond controversy.

But I’m skeptical about the effects.  I can’t observe climate around the world, but I am aware of long-term trends where I live.  I’m writing this on Christmas week, in New York City.  The temperature outside is 48 degrees Fahrenheit, a little warmer than it has been in the past few days.  Last week was right around freezing.  About 15-20 years ago, it was warmer, with milder winters and several days each summer with high temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  But in more recent years, the weather has become more like I remember it, with over-100-degree days being genuinely rare, every winter bringing snow and at least a week or two of temperatures close to zero, and mid- to late-December being right around freezing, like it is this month.

Nevertheless, it’s always fair to check one’s premises, and when my professional society made a presentation on the subject available, I checked it out.  You can review it for yourself here.

My essential question for Greta Thunberg and all those who go around screaming about the ‘climate emergency’ is: what do you propose to do about it?  Part of my skepticism is that climate change seems to be a pretext for Draconian government control of our lives.

The presentation had some useful insights, but they were very grim.

  • Exxon, in the early 1980s, had endeavored to project future levels of carbon dioxide and global temperatures.  Their projections have turned out to be accurate, nearly 40 years later.  This answers another of my points of skepticism: there were many predictions in the 1980s that low-lying Pacific islands would be underwater today, but that hasn’t happened.  But here is a prediction from the 1980s, by an entity with a business interest in accurate results (what will be the future market for their product?), that is coming to pass.
  • Carbon emissions and global GDP (is it really a ‘domestic’ product when one is considering the entire world?) have moved in lock step for the last 50 years.
  • Even on the level of households, there is a strong relationship between energy consumption and income.
  • To meet the goals of the Paris climate accords, the world will have to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 7.6% per year in the short term.
  • Doing so will mean that global GDP will have to necessarily shrink.

My wife and I could reasonably reduce our household’s emissions by 7.6%.  This would mean (as a quick approximation) not only using 7.6% less energy at home, but traveling 7.6% fewer miles and eating 7.6% less.  But if we must do it again and again over successive years, we will ultimately be starving in the dark!

And we’re doing pretty well in the world: for many, even a slight reduction in consumption would be a real hardship.  Some countries and peoples simply can’t reduce consumption; others won’t.

It would be simpler if we would all just die.

In the recent Democratic debate, the candidates all insisted they would do something about climate change, although exactly what was still very fuzzy.  But what will they do, if elected?  What can they do?

Remediating the effects of climate change will be a vast project: it will entail implementing new sources of energy, building infrastructure to hold off flooding, and possibly relocating whole populations.  Can our government do those things competently and even-handedly? 

And if not, as seems likely, what would they do instead?

What Makes News Fake

I try to get a varied news diet.  I watch NBC Nightly News, read the newspaper, scan mostly conservative news feeds.  For a liberal perspective, I find audiobooks most effective: most of the day-to-day liberal media presumes that one already understands their premises, and the audiobook format discourages me from skipping over the parts I might not agree with.

I normally don’t watch the cable news channels, except when I’m at the gym.  I watch CNN or MSNBC with the sound turned off, sometimes with captions, while sweating on the treadmill.

Since I started going to the gym in 2015, it seemed that the ‘news’ on CNN and MSNBC wasn’t quite real.  NBC, in fairness, wasn’t—and isn’t–that different.  This was before Donald Trump emerged as a serious candidate for President, but has only gotten more severe since then.

Journalism is, or ought to be, like mining.  One digs out nuggets of truth, and presents them to the world.  A customer of a coal, gold, or diamond mine would be unhappy if they received something other than coal, gold, or diamonds, and the customer for journalism should have the same expectations.

But mining is, well, iffy.  One can dig and find nothing.  Real journalism is iffy, too.  It can also be difficult and expensive.  Real journalism runs the risk of getting sued or arrested for saying the wrong things about the wrong people.

Given that most of the media is run by multinational corporations worried about liability and their bottom lines, how can the iffiness be removed from journalism, so that one can deliver a consistent product with no risk of liability?

Just like gold and silver have been replaced by fiat money, so truth in journalism is being replaced by ‘truthiness:’ it’s delivered like news, feels like news, but it’s not quite the same.

President Trump, shortly after he was inaugurated, called the phenomenon ‘fake news,’ which seems a reasonable name for it.  But what makes fake news different from real journalism?

  • It’s all about the narrative:  There’s nothing wrong with narratives in and of themselves.  They’re how we go from data points, like reports of incidents, to understanding.  But in real journalism, the facts drive the narrative.  In fake news, the narrative drives the facts.   The narrative determines what facts should be emphasized and which should be disregarded.  You can marshal enough facts to support the narrative that the United States was built on slavery, but the preponderance of historical evidence suggests otherwise.
  • Is it news or is it opinion?   There isn’t an absolute boundary, and reportage is always colored to a degree by the reporter’s perspective, but it used to be clear what was news and what was opinion.  Today reporting and opinions are allowed to mix.
  • Or just tell us what to think about it:  I noted back in 2014 of an NBC news item that we were told was ‘scary’ before any of the facts were presented.  It seemed an outlier then, but not so much now.
  • Lose your sense of proportion:  If a politician who has said nasty things about President Trump says something else nasty, it isn’t really news: it’s something we’ve basically heard before.  But one can advance the narrative by presenting it as a fresh revelation.  Just keep banging the drum: as my mother used to say, “it’s repetition that teaches.”
  • And now for a commercial break:  One of my jaw-dropping experiences on the treadmill came a couple of years ago while watching CNN, when a commercial for Tom Steyer’s ‘Need to Impeach’ initiative appeared.  The viewpoint of the commercial was so consistent with the content of the news program that, other than the request for a donation (to do what?), it was hard to tell them apart.  I accept that politicians running for office will run commercials presenting their own viewpoints and positions, but this bordered on propaganda.

It’s a troubling trend.  I’ll leave it at that.

The Democrats, So Far

I haven’t written for a while.  I wanted to write something in response to the shootings in early August: not so much the shootings themselves, but the media response to them. I was afraid that someone might come to the wrong conclusion about me.  But the world is changing, and not in a good way, and if I just shut up, I’ll still get trampled.  Maybe not right now, but sometime close enough to worry about.

Since then, I’ve been watching the Democratic Presidential debates.  It’s still too early to critically assess the candidates against each other, so it’s more a game of perceptions.  Some are wokescolds, some come across as genuinely Presidential, some are just annoying, and one seems like a crazy cat lady.

But I couldn’t vote for any of them.  Stripped of the rhetoric and the variations of individual candidates, they all have the same formula:

The American people are suffering and fearful.  Under my leadership, the Federal government will relieve your suffering and assuage your fears.  Under my leadership, the Federal government will bring help.

And if you don’t need or want help, too bad: you’ll get it anyway.

To be fair, it isn’t that Trump doesn’t pitch to fear and suffering: it’s what politicians do.  But Trump proposes to address the woes of his constituents by doing that which the government should have been doing in the first place, and not trying to fix things by regulation.

As I write these words, my mother’s pithy summary of the Republican philosophy rings in my head:

“I’ve got mine, so bugger you.”  (And yes, she actually said “bugger.”)

And if all the Democrats wanted were higher taxes, I might concede her point.

But I believe my mother would be horrified by what we’ve become.  No: she already knew: she said it herself, 15 or so years ago:

“We’re a spent people.”

A spent people, in need of help from the government, don’t care about liberty.

But liberty is what the Democrats propose to sacrifice in the name of helping the people, although for the most part they won’t say that out loud.  They do talk about gun control, but that would only be the beginning.

Well, I got a Full Time Job, BUT….

After way too many years of underemployment, unemployment and the like I finally got a full time job but there are red flags galore. To summarize my job life since 2007, I lost my high paying but high stress, job where I was bullied. In general I liked when I did what I was hired to do but often “duties as needed” meant things like counting pencils. HR bullied me so badly and when my boss was fired so was I and anyone connected to him. At first I was happy because I hated the job (liked my boss) and figured with my impressive skills and my masters I’d find a job soon and even had an interview the day I was fired. Looked good, but it became a nightmare that continued from December 2007 (yes almost 12 years) until now.

So from December 2007 until September 2016 I tried everything. I got a job waitressing but both me and the restaurant owner mutually agreed I couldn’t hack it anymore due to arthritis and psoriasis. I did a variety of temp jobs and whatever I could find. I went on interviews and sent out hundreds, if not thousands of resumes. I dealt with everything you can imagine, being told I was too old at 37, told I wasn’t smart, taking test after test and still being rejected. I would cry and so depressed. It was a nightmare and couldn’t figure out why I was being rejected. I knew then I had to go back and get another degree so I chose substance abuse.

In general, I wasn’t crazy about substance abuse but knew there was a shortage in the field. I got a 4.0 my first semester but the second semester was rough, because I lost my mother unexpectedly, my grandfather expectedly, and I got very sick where I was bedridden for months. Luckily my classes were mostly online (and the one in person class wasn’t long when we met in person and had online sessions). Even so, I graduated with a 4.0. I then applied for the advanced program and was rejected. I don’t know why but it was known the department was angry I didn’t want to work with low income clients in the “hood”. No, I didn’t want to get shot for a barely above minimum wage job. I’ve discussed my issue with the addictions program in another thread so it’s another topic. I then started the online teaching program and that has been a positive experience.

I finished the degree, and continued with my online teaching certificate. I started getting job interviews with my instructional design experience (what I did in my job I mentioned earlier) and thought it would be cool if I went back to doing it and ironic after spending two years in addictions but nope. So I decided to bite the bullet and take the drug counseling certification test. I did this and passed and since then I’ve been getting interviews. One place gave me bad vibes when I interviewed but I figured they wouldn’t call me but then they offered me the job.

I should be happy, right? Nope, they told me the wage, which was 16 bucks an hour and change (16.82 I think). However, they didn’t mention benefits and when I asked they told me they would tell me when I started. This is fishy. In the past I would have never considered this offer but here I am. I am going to help the online teaching program give presentations about the program and love this field, but they can’t afford to pay much, or anything right now. So yeah here we go again where I am going to take a job I don’t want and still hope something better comes along.

My life, now.

It has been a while since I have posted. I have suffered from fibromyalgia for 22 years now, and I have a better understanding of the disease process. Recently, I realized I had not had a Vitamin B-12 Level, nor a Folic Acid level ever done. So, I had them done—and both were below-normal levels, respectively. I have been getting B-12 shots now for about 9 months, and my energy level is better than it has been since 10 years ago. I tried taking Folic Acid, but I got diarrhea when I took it. So, I will have to ask my physician if I can have the injections of Folic Acid instead. My IBS started in 1997. I do not know when my hypothyroidism, and low vitamin levels stated—but I would say it was at the same time. The lesson here is that despite all the money spent on healthcare in the USA, we really do not have a system that can properly diagnose, using low-cost blood-tests, diseases correctly. I have suffered unnecessary pain because of the failure of this system. I got my correct diagnosis from ‘Dr. Google’. I, for one, look forward to A.I. -powered ‘medical diagnosis and treatment plans’. Recently, I had a hemorrhoid ‘banded’—and that was a complete failure. As the little ‘rubber band’ came off, I experienced the worst physical pain of my life. It was like my root-canal infections, but worse. I am now thinking that most things cannot be fixed because they are due to the degenerative diseases of aging. Everyone should be aware of this reality. I certainly am. OUCH!

Plastic Bags

A while back, I was at the Trader Joe’s, buying groceries.  I had brought a reusable bag.

“Oh, aren’t you saving the planet!” the cashier said.

No, I’m just trying not to be wasteful.

She enthusiastically told me that the store had stopped providing plastic bags, and that it was wonderful ‘for the planet.’  The store now had only paper bags for carrying things home, unless you wanted to buy a reusable bag.

I’m skeptical:

  • Paper bags are bigger and heavier, and require more energy (i.e. fossil fuels) to produce and transport than plastic bags.
  • Plastic bags are more readily reusable.  They come in handy anytime one has extra items to carry.  Paper bags are good for covering school textbooks, but my need for that went away quite some time ago.
  • Paper bags can be a home for bugs.  When I moved out to my first apartment, I had a bug problem.  I sprayed under the kitchen sink, but the bugs migrated to the stack of paper bags I stuck between the wall and the refrigerator.

Beyond that, plastic bags don’t get soggy in the rain.  The one real environmental downside to plastic bags that I’m aware of is that if they are not disposed of properly or recycled, they can become litter and foul waterways.

But it really isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a big deal.  I’m not going to stop shopping in a store, or go out of my way to visit a store, because of bags.  If a store wants to provide only paper bags, or indeed only plastic bags, that should be their choice.

Alas, not anymore, not in New York.

Starting next March, it will be illegal for stores to pass out single-use plastic bags for carrying things home.  Smaller bags for meat or deli items will still be legal.  It will also be legal for restaurants to use plastic bags for takeout items.  As for paper bags, each county has the option of applying a five-cent fee for each bag, the proceeds to go to a state environmental fund.

Better living through government, I guess.  Thank you, Emperor Cuomo.

We’ll still go to the Trader Joe’s: they have good stuff at reasonable prices.  But my wife is on the lookout for plastic bags from stores that still have them.

When the ban goes into effect next year, I’ll still be able to get bags from the Chinese takeout.  But while I do enjoy Chinese takeout, I don’t enjoy it that much.

What about a lifetime buy?  How many bags would my wife and I need for the rest of our lives?  If I posit 200 bags a year for 40 years (I’ll be 97 then, and probably beyond caring about bags), that’s 8,000 bags.  Amazon sells a case of 1,000 bags for under $20.  For under $200, I could buy myself peace of mind on the plastic bag front.

In fairness, that’s still a bit silly, as buying bags in bulk will still be legal: how would the Chinese takeout get their bags?  Then again, I’m sure that this year’s initiative is just a start, and Emperor Cuomo or his successors will come up with cleverer ideas.

To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The Border Emergency

Four years ago, I wrote:

One can construct a sensible immigration policy around the notion that the borders should be open. Such a policy would necessarily include restrictions on receiving public benefits, and effective enforcement against the relative handful that are genuinely criminal or otherwise dangerous.

Alternately, one can construct a sensible immigration policy around the notion of closed borders. Such a policy would include physical border security, and an immigration bureaucracy that actually works, so that our closed borders do not interfere with legitimate travel and tourism.

The horrifying thing is that we’ve done neither, and are continuing to do neither.

I’ll amplify a bit: our laws and regulations are based on the premise that the border is secure.  It’s against the law to simply walk in without presenting yourself and your stuff to the designated officials at the border.  Yet the border itself is not secure, and most of our leadership—both Democratic and Republican—seems OK with that.

Four years later, nothing has changed, despite our being more than halfway through the term of a President who made border security his signature issue.

President Trump asserts that there is an emergency at our southern border which requires him to reallocate funding from other purposes to build a wall and take other measures to secure the border.  Meanwhile, the rest of our leadership denies there is an emergency, and further asserts that Trump is bonkers for saying otherwise.

Is there an actual emergency?  I don’t know first-hand: I don’t live there.  And whatever may be happening there, one could argue that it’s hardly an ‘emergency’ because the same conditions have prevailed for years.

But reports from the people who live at the border suggest, if not an emergency, a continuing, serious problem.  And the government’s figures show that, after reaching a low in early 2017 (perhaps in the belief that Trump might, actually, enforce the border?) illegal border crossings have surged back to where they were a few years ago.

Whatever may be happening at the border, the real emergency is in Washington.

We have a President who has, like all Presidents, a duty to faithfully execute the law.  The law, in this case, operates on the premise that the border is secure, and there is therefore an executive responsibility to secure the border.  And President Trump is simply following through on that responsibility.

The emergency is that the rest of our leadership believes that enforcing the border is stupid or immoral or… something, and seeks to thwart the President from carrying out his duty.

If you really believe the borders should be open or that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should be abolished, then make the effort and change the law.  If it’s really a moral issue, it’s a worthwhile project, although you won’t get results next week.

Until then, the law is what it is, and our President is bound to faithfully execute it.

After the ‘Shutdown’

I’ve been overtaken by the tail end of a project that has taken much of my time for the last several months.  My staff and I had to work nights and weekends, and through the holidays, to frantically get everything hooked up and operational, and finished the last part Friday morning.  We’ll have to do cleanup over the next few weeks, but that hopefully won’t be quite so manic.

*          *          *

The soap opera that was the government shutdown is over, for now.  President Trump will not get funding from Congress for a wall or other border security measures, for now.  It would be within the President’s power to allocate funds for the purpose by executive order, and he isn’t doing that, for now.

I respect the President for trying to force this issue, and I respect him for recognizing that he wasn’t getting anywhere.  What’s galling is that the Democratic leaders, Senator Schumer and House Speaker Pelosi, were in favor of better border security a few years ago, but are against it now that President Trump wants it.

It was a defeat for the President, of course, but not a ‘humiliation,’ as it was reported in the Daily News and other media yesterday.  Remember that Trump is not a politician by education or temperament.  He’s much more willing to take risks than a ‘normal’ politician, because he’s learned that, yes, risks sometimes go bad, and defeat stings, but you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again.  He does not humiliate easily.

But what happens next month?

A proper way forward will require the parties to address each other with respect.  It’s hard to assess the dimensions of Trump’s respect—or lack thereof—for Schumer and Pelosi.  He’s given to making offhand tweets, but I’m not sure that means anything one way or the other.  I’m sure, however, that he recognizes the power they hold over the situation, and while he may not respect the people, he respects their positions.

On the other hand, the Democratic leadership seems to see Trump as somewhere between contemptible and beneath even contempt.  It’s not just that they voted for the other candidate in 2016: Trump is not their President.  If he can’t be removed from office (not that that won’t be a coming attraction), he can be effectively neutered by refusing to acknowledge him as President.

It’s a simple strategy, and demonstrably effective, for now.  All they have to do is stay the course.

For 2020, it will either work extremely well or extremely poorly.

A long few months for me

I have a long update on everything that has happened and it ties into the problem with colleges preparing students for low level jobs. Anyway, in 2016 I started college again to work with addictions. I knew then that with just the basic 32 hour degree the jobs were worthless (some paying minimum wage and in bad areas) but with the 60 hour degree the job offers were much better (close to what I have made in past). So basically I decided to go for the 60 hours and managed a 4.0 GPA. This proved difficult at times since my mom died in the beginning of my second semester and I became very sick to the point where I believed I would die. Not an exaggeration, my doctor told me I had symptoms of stage 4 liver cancer. Turns out I had several issues, including a severe kidney infection. Luckily this semester (Spring 2017) I had two classes online and a third was once a week and the professor was understanding of my illness. Long story short I completed this semester with a 4.0 GPA and when Fall 2017 came around I applied for the advanced program. They required me to jump through hoops that no one else had to, and they still rejected me. The reason I found out was because they didn’t like that I wasn’t open to working in high crime areas (something I told them about from the get go) and that I attended church. To say I was bitter was an understatement because I was clear I wanted in that program and not the 32 hour one. I also believe race may have played a part since the school is mostly African American and very very SJW.

So instead of going in the program I wanted, I decided to apply for the internship and be done. But nope, they let me know late that I was rejected so I had to wait a semester. I was then able to start my online teaching certificate, something I considered long before this program. I also took an addiction class that had a lot of information I need for my certification test so it was fine. When I applied for the internship from the get go the professor was nasty to me. No matter what I said in class he bashed me. In July I was having a conversation with a classmate about the students that they accept and I stated half don’t belong there. The professor overheard me and decided to attack me in class and tell my classmates I was talking about them. They told him I wasn’t referring to them and he started saying yes I was. Then in September I got into it with another student and a professor and it ended with me suspended from school until I had a conduct meeting. In the meantime I had to attend a conference in Myrtle Beach and several of my classmates also attended. For the most part they mostly ignored me and if they saw me would say hi and walk away. These were classmates I was on good terms with before this, we spoke often via email and in class. My professor said things about me to them I assume. While at the conference I found that I could return to my internship (I had 7 days left to go) and had to attend a counseling session. At the counseling session the counselor said I didn’t need help, and that was that. I returned to my internship, finished it last week and turned in the logs.

Speaking of my internship, it went well and met great people. The bad thing though is that it is merging with another company so they couldn’t have offered me a job even if they wanted to. I am sending a resume though to the new place taking over and keeping in touch with several I met at the internship. I liked it there but go figure something like this would happen. I’m also pursuing the online teaching certificate and was selected to job an honor society for future educators, which I accepted. Ironically the acceptance came during my suspension, which to me was a sort of omen. I wish I had listened to my vibes about doing the program I am almost finished with and switched to the other counseling program or perhaps it will come in handy with education jobs, who knows.

The latest and greatest from me

Where do I begin with this.

I resuscitated the job search late this April.

I signed up for Indeed. At first, there were many posts…I got a lot of interviews but no offers and then the posts dried up at the end of June and has been dry since then.

As for me, I got a swift shock when I sat down and toted up my monthly — and then yearly expenses for my cost of living.

I am still here at this crummy crummy apartment — the rent is almost $1400 — there is a 5.5% increase yearly, as mandated by, I think, the county — and I am still tied to that bin, that is holding all of the furniture and my belongings for the past 3 years.

In essence, my monthly rent is over $1800, counting the bin and the rent for this apartment.

I do not go out, I do not go on vacations and I don’t buy clothes, unless it is a necessity.

The rest of my expenses are food, car insurance, the 3-way-phone/internet/cable bill, gas and electric.

I am being swamped and back in August, when I saw how much per year I am spending, just to live… I nearly shit my pants.

If I got a $38,000 per year job?

I won’t be able to cut it financially.

After taxes, that job will net me about 26 grand…I need about 50 grand to stay in the black and there is no job that I will be able to get that will pay me 50K per year.

The part time jobs don’t even seem to be available anymore. To make up the deficit…I’d have to work a solid chunk of hours per week and that chunk of hours has to be guaranteed indefinitely. And we all know part timers are always the first to go when a company wants to tighten its belt.

You no longer work to earn a living — in NJ you are working to feed an economic monster. You have little money for your own disposal

The money just is not here anymore. The jobs are not here anymore — I think New Jersey is done for, cost of living wise. The cost of living goes up each year and salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living. Nobody gets a raise anymore. I never got a raise at my last 3 jobs.:( Nothing — open up my check on the last pay period of the year and I have the same damn amount looking me in the face.:(

I am nearly 61. Like it or not, I haven’t got many years left in the workforce.

We have lost nearly 64,000 jobs in this area between 1993 and December of 2014 — those 64,000  jobs  were concentrated in a radius that comprised 3 towns. This is the hub that was Passaic-Clifton-Nutley.

Roche closed for good in December of 2014. Genentech, the company that owns them, decided they did not want a NJ campus. They were phased out over 3 years’ time.

2 hospitals closed; went out of business — I can’t see how — business was booming there and always was —  and the third one that’s left isn’t so great.

One of the hospitals that closed had a residency program and was a leader in heart surgery.

Roche closed, Givudan is gone, both ADPs were absorbed by Roseland and Shulton is gone — gone after Cyanamid was bought out by some other company. ITT was a goner when the  Iron Curtain fell in 1991; ITT no longer exists because of that.

64,000 jobs and nothing at all to replace them.:(

In their place: retail, housing and a mixed-use commercial building where Givudan stood.

Nothing is where one of the former hospitals was…and the former St. Mary’s is vacant. No buyer for the property.

Mary’s took over the Passaic General building; Passaic Gen went out of business.

Why do we need a medical school and start-up companies? that is what is there now on the former Roche campus.:( That’s not going to bring us 31,000 jobs for all skill sets and every education level.

I guess my only choice is to relocate to a cheaper state. If I stay here, I will be slaughtered financially. I can’t and won’t blame myself: I am what I am and what I did for a living I did for a living. it is what it is and I have to find somewhere else to live.:( Not this state — I am finished here.:(

Who thinks this is going to happen to them — and who thinks this state is going to more or less be only for the high earners???:(

You know how property taxes are here — effing sky high — and landlords are greedy. The least expensive 3 bedroom is perhaps about what I am paying, maybe $800 less per month than what I pay, if you are lucky. And most of these people are multiple property owners, like the one who owns my building. I never even got a stove when I moved in here! he never told me “Stove is yours to take care of.”

When I first saw these rooms, there was a stove here. he was  busy pulling up the old carpet…I came here 2 weeks ahead of my move-in date to paint and no stove. I figured he’d have it here by April 1, which was my official first day here; 4-1 comes and no stove. I call him asking “”Where’s the stove” and that is when he tells me I have to provide it MYSELF.

I have one of those old stovetop ranges….this is a 1960 apartment that was never updated…but no stove. Buy it myuself? NO…because I’d be stuck with it. I have a countertop oven…and I think it is packing it in.:(

Not what we agreed upona nd nowhere in the lease does it say “provide your own stove.” Guy downstairs…same thing….and that other apartment downstairs where the screaming tenant was…that stove got thrown out. New tenant is there and I am 100% sure the landlord provided a stove for him.:( I would LOVE to find out somehow.

Ugh…:(

Brett Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings to be the second appointee by President Trump to the Supreme Court were derailed by the accusation by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh held her down and tried to force himself upon her in the early 1980s, when they were high school students.

Let’s break the “he said, she said” deadlock and grant that events unfolded as accused.  How did the two of them get together?  They were at a party; they were friends; they knew each other.  They apparently rather liked each other, to the point where they wanted to be alone with each other.  But when Kavanaugh asserted himself, she resisted, and ultimately, he thought better of it and backed off.

If this had happened last week or last month, or even ten years ago, I’d agree this is a serious concern: I don’t want a Supreme Court justice who runs around attacking women.  But what about an accusation from two-thirds of a lifetime ago, when the participants were both teenagers, with their brains not yet fully cooked?  Moreover, Kavanaugh, as a serving Federal judge rising through the ranks, has repeatedly been background-checked by the FBI, and nothing of this nature came up.

While it may have been a sexual assault under the legal definition, more practically it was a case of botched consent.  (If there had genuinely been an assault, the proper course of action, even in the early 1980s, would be to call the police.  But that didn’t happen.)  Today, one is supposed to ask and receive permission every step of the way, giving a romantic encounter all the charm of an ICBM launch.  But this was another time.

We’re told that we need to believe the survivors of sexual assault.  OK: I’ll believe her.  We have an event that happened two-thirds of a lifetime ago, which, at the time, would have been deemed a youthful indiscretion.

Since then, repeated background checking over Kavanaugh’s adult life found nothing of concern.  The inescapable conclusion is that Kavanaugh grew up, became a responsible citizen, husband, and father, and the events of his adolescence shouldn’t be held against him.

What’s chilling is that the tale of Christine and Brett is hardly unusual.  Very few people are so pure of heart that nothing could be dredged from their past.  If this is the standard to which future Supreme Court justices and others subject to advice and consent will be held, we’re going to have trouble finding people who can meet that standard.

Then again, this could all be a put-up job.

Two sides to every story

I have been watching the Kavanaugh hearings with interest, not because I support or oppose anyone, but rather because we have become a country of they said this and those said other things. Right now I am deal with an issue that could get me expelled from graduate school. I have a 4.0 GPA, on scholarship but could lose all of it to a bully my temper. My professor has been bullying me severely since March. He attacked me via email but the worst came in July where he heard me having a private conversation with a classmate about the admissions policy and how so many don’t belong in school. Instead of ignoring a private conversation he was not involved (and which didn’t pertain to him) he decided to bring this conversation in class and attack me, saying I have no right saying this about my classmates and he then told my classmates I was talking about them when I wasn’t, and they knew I didn’t mean them. He then asked me to stay afterwards where he called me worthless and how he was going to get me expelled from school. I reported this to the head of the program and she is aware and aid he would be nicer. Well, he was nicer, only because his comments weren’t as mean, and ignored.

Anyway, last Thursday he started telling us our degrees were worthless and he recommended we go for the advanced program. He then looked at me and said “not you, you’re worthless”. Needless to say I started to go and he continued as did a classmate who bullied me for not going into bad areas for an internship. This classmate (a Nation of Islam member) made it about race, and I started to walk towards him to confront him and my teacher pushed me. He then told me to leave and started harassing me. As I was leaving I made a comment like “I hope you die”. Well, long story short he pressed charges against me and the school suspended me until a hearing. I could get a warning, suspension for a semester or expelled or many other things. I am hoping since I am almost done with the program (55 hours at my internship where they like me)they will allow me to continue with another professor. I am terrified because the one time I erupted (after months of abuse) is now going to cause trouble. Forget the fact that I am a 4.0 GPA library trustee, active in the Legion Auxiliary and church, nope the professor (who has a history of abuse towards women) is the one they might believe. The reality is this, people believe the person in power over someone else and it is sickening. It’s why people (especially women) don’t come forward and victims suffer.

Andrew Cuomo

Last Thursday we had the primary election in New York for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and some other offices.  It’s the first time that I can recall in my life that an election in the United States was moved from Tuesday.

But then, this past Tuesday was 11 September, the modern date that will live in infamy.  For me, it’s the day we learned our leadership is either stupid or evil, and to this day we’re afraid to find out which. Living well—or at least carrying on with aplomb—is the best revenge against terrorism, or stupid or evil governments.  Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Alas, I’m apparently in the minority.  11 September is supposed to be a day of moaning and interminable suffering, and not for normal things like elections.

Andrew Cuomo, son of Mario, won the primary and will be running for a third term in November.  His opponent this week was Cynthia Nixon, the actress who played Miranda Hobbes in Sex and the City. I knew it was a lost cause, but I voted for Cynthia, even though I disagree with most of her positions.  Then again, if a live turnip had been running for Governor, I would have voted for it.

It bothers me when a politician is himself the son of a politician.  (I’m sure we’ll have daughters of politicians running for office someday, and I’ll have the same objection.)  It says that talent is so thin on the ground that we have to look to the children of past leaders.  I thought hereditary government was something we fought a Revolution to get rid of.

Worse than that were his campaign commercials.  Cuomo’s campaign invective against President Trump rubbed me the wrong way.  It isn’t that I agree or disagree with his positions: I watched Cuomo’s campaign commercials and realized: I don’t like this person.  I want him to go away.

In contrast, in President Bush, we had someone who more clearly became President in 2000 as a result of electoral finagling, and who led us into a pointless war.  But other than John Kerry, whose entire platform running for President in 2004 was ‘I am not Bush,’ nobody felt the need to rail against Bush or make him the bogeyman.

Alas, Andrew Cuomo isn’t going away, and I expect that he’ll run for President in 2020.

Thwarting from Within

Lester Holt was almost breathless on Wednesday’s NBC Nightly News.  An anonymous senior White House official had written an op-ed published in the New York Times that day about how the President’s staffers were working to thwart his out-of-control initiatives.  The item was presented as an ‘unprecedented warning’ on the President’s condition.  This was followed by an unflattering snippet of President Trump denouncing the op-ed, looking especially boorish.  (But what did you expect him to say?)  Chuck Todd, NBC’s political director, seemed, on a quick listen, to go along with the message that the President is deranged.  But he actually said that the report itself was suspect, and that was the real cause for concern.

The op-ed itself is understated, compared to the overblown report on NBC.  While I wonder about the motivations of its author in writing for publication while asserting that he supports the President’s achievements, my more immediate impression was that the op-ed was dated: although it was written more recently, it reflected the situation early in the Trump administration, when the new President hadn’t yet gotten his bearings.  Donald Trump had never held any sort of elected office before becoming President, so it’s entirely reasonable to expect some learning curve.  But he—and we—got past that.

So why are we reading about circumstances from a year ago—which we could surmise from news reports at the time—now?

And why is NBC (and doubtless other media outlets) pushing the narrative that the President is going off the rails?

Yes, Virginia, there is a Deep State.

The revolution certainly will not be televised. “The Coming Collapse”: Food for thought.:(

The Coming Collapse

The voters were hoodwinked.

There was never going to be a reboot of the coal mines and as for the Rust Belt and the auto industry: That goes with a nice offer of a bridge for sale. There were never going to be any school vouchers.

Buyer’s remorse is going to hit quite hard.

Face it: all of you were lied to and you bought it all, hook, line and sinker.

Can somebody here assure me that hospitality and etiquette at a job interview is not dead???

Somebody, anybody, tell me that hospitality and etiquette is not dead at a job interview.

Nobody seems to offer you a drink or if they can get you anything — not anymore — I mentioned this to a job coach (I have one now and that is a story in itself) and she  laughed.

Laughed like this was a joke.

I reminded her that we were told to always make a client or an interviewee at home– “Oh that was a long time ago. This is why you are having a problem finding a job…. this was a long time ago…a glass of water, really?” And she kept laughing.:(

10 years ago at my last “corporate” job is not a long time ago.

And niceties and hospitality never go out of style.

As for the job search itself:

Oh, the jobs are there, on indeed. Dozens of them. That’s not the problem now, scarcity of jobs — the day of the hard copy “help wanted” news paper ad is done.

And done because it’s easier and quicker to post an ad as long as you wish it to be, on indeed. There is no per-word price like there is with a hard copy ad. Last I heard a newspaper help wanted ad was a couple hundred bucks for a smallish ad.

Though every once in awhile, a giant in an industry will publish a newspaper help wanted ad.

I restarted my job search about a month ago. “For the real” — I still have been looking in the meanwhile. Not much success.

I have sent close to 80 resumes in the past 3 weeks — I got several “the employer has seen your resume” and got perhaps 4 phone interviews. Only one phone interview has resulted in a face to face interview.

I have attended one interview this past Friday and it was at a small mom and pop electrical company — this is the bunch that didn’t offer me a drink or anything else — that wasn’t for me and they ended the interview after 4 minutes, anyway. This is much ado about nothing — they want to speak to other candidates for the next 3 weeks and then call back the candidates for a second interview.

The mother of the bunch sat in on that interview with me and the other person. The mother did not introduce herself. I had to ask her name.:(

So is etiquette dead? When did the rule change?:(

Reverse Discrimination Alive and Well

In 2016 I went back to become a drug counselor. They asked me if I planned to go for the advanced program or the basic and I said advanced. They said I needed to maintain a 3.5 GPA to even be accepted. A year later I was finished with the main part and applied for the advanced program. I have a 4.0 GPA, and serve in various capacities including as a library trustee. I thought I was a sure thing, but nope. In fact, they claimed I didn’t have the right personality for that program or something stupid. I almost dropped out of the program because I was very clear what I wanted when I started and with a 4.0 GPA should have gotten it. Most of the people accepted into the program have lower GPA’a than me, some don’t even hit that number. I received a $10,000 for this summer, otherwise I would have dropped out.

Well, turns out I think I know why I was rejected. I found out I was rejected because the coordinator hates Catholics and anyone right of, well, a communist. They found out I mentioned I didn’t want to work in the ghetto and their snowflake brains were offended. Also, need I mention everyone accepted was African American? Yep. So now, I find out with just the certification the jobs are garbage to be blunt and I could make more in other fields. I’m looking into going for a doctorate in psychology instead because at least this will get me into those programs but apparently not much else.

The only good thing is the grant means I have to attend all expense paid conferences and get additional certification in integrated care so who knows. I’m also taking online teaching certificate and Spanish classes so this should help.

Are You a Citizen?

It seems an obvious question: so obvious, in fact, that I hadn’t really noticed its absence in all the times I’ve had to complete a Census.  In fact, on researching the issue further, it wasn’t really absent: in 1970 through 2000, the question was on the long-form questionnaire.  But the last time all participants were required to identify whether they were citizens in the United States Census was in 1950.

President Trump is planning to bring the question back for 2020, to howls of protest.  Nineteen state Attorneys General are contemplating suing the Federal government if the question is added.  The question, we’re told, would discourage immigrants, legal and illegal, from participating in the Census, leading to an undercount that would deprive states with large immigrant populations of representation in Congress (and, by extension, the Electoral College) and Federal aid of various stripes.

The Census is intended to be “an Enumeration” to establish “the whole Number of free Persons,” which includes (since slavery was abolished over 150 years ago, we’re all ‘free’) citizens and immigrants, regardless of their status.  Fair enough.

But not asking about citizenship is just one of many ways in which our leadership has made policy decisions in deference to people’s fears.  Some might be afraid to answer the Census if we ask about citizenship, so we won’t ask.  Indeed, the primary argument of the latest group of gun control advocates seems to be to emotion: guns are scary, and dangerous to our precious children.

Deferring to fear is not good public policy.  For years, we’ve been reluctant to address North Korea.  We’d make a deal with them; they’d do what they wanted anyway; we’d call them nasty names, but then ultimately make another deal.  President Trump has broken the cycle.  It’s a bit scary, to be sure, but it seems to be working.

Asking Census participants whether they are citizens is eminently reasonable.  The question should be asked.

Or is it that illegal immigrants—although they cannot vote—have become a part of the political power base of states like New York and California, and the leadership of those states doesn’t want to lose power?

Illness/Shooting/Rights

It’s the first honest-to-God weekend that I’ve had in a while.  I had work through the weekend over most of January and February, and before that was sick with what felt like the flu.

I woke up New Year’s Day with a mystery rash, on top of otherwise feeling rotten.  (No, not drunk.  I had gone to bed around 8 p.m., and woke up briefly around midnight to watch the ball drop on television.)  Feeling a little panicked, I went to the hospital.

Did you have chicken pox?” the doctor asked.

“Yeah… when I was six,” I answered.

The rash was apparently shingles, left over from 50 years ago.  The doctor prescribed some pills that, as far as I could tell, did exactly nothing.  The rash faded, very slowly, and I got better under my own power, drinking lots of orange juice, and tea instead of coffee.

Six weeks later, I got a note from my insurance company: the hospital had charged about $3000 for my little jaunt, of which I will have to pay $1000.

*          *          *

More recently, a troubled young man shot up a high school in Florida, killing 17.  Another nut with a gun: it’s the kind of event that seems to be happening more frequently, and the usual response from the media and politicians is for more gun control.

I have to disagree.

I’ll grant that, among the things that government can do, gun control is relatively simple.  But what about controlling the nut: the troubled young man behind the trigger?

School shootings appear to be almost exclusively limited to the United States, in the past 20 years or so.  Somehow, other places in the world seem to do an adequate job of nut control.  We did, too, in the past.  What changed?

To be sure, nut control, unlike gun control, can’t be done by fiat. It’s the responsibility of parents, siblings, teachers, friends, and anyone encountering a troubled young person in need of help.

But there’s more than that.  I’m coming to believe that something—likely more than one something—in our way of bringing up young people is causing young men to become nihilist exterminators.

Why not young women?  (All the school shootings I’m aware of have been perpetrated by males.)

That may be a clue.

*          *          *

My son, who has a more liberal outlook than I do, was mumbling something the other day about the National Rifle Association (NRA).  In the wake of the Florida shooting, the NRA has been denounced as an agent of the gun manufacturers, who are simply interested in selling more product.

Perhaps they are.  They are certainly lobbyists, seeking to influence the government to advance their agenda.

But their agenda is the Second Amendment, which states plainly, ‘the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’  The Founders included the Second Amendment for some very good reasons, and it’s not something to cast aside lightly.

I live in New York City and I don’t own a gun: I don’t feel a practical need for one, and it’s too much trouble (so much for ‘shall not be infringed’) to acquire and keep a gun in my home.  But I reserve the right to arm myself, should I find it necessary, and if I can’t do so legally, I’ll move.

For that reason, I’m considering joining the NRA, even though I normally don’t think much of lobbyists.  The next time my son mumbles something about the NRA, I could show him my membership card and say, “Do you mean… me?”

And as far as the Second Amendment, I’d rather see an honest debate about repealing it than yet another measure nibbling around the edges.  If you believe that guns are a public health menace and should be banned on those grounds, and that the Second Amendment’s time has passed, stand up and say so.

2017: The Year I want to forget

I haven’t posted much in the last few months, even up to a year with a good reason. This year has been traumatic to say the least. It started out pretty uneventful, but this would change on January 13, 2017. I was getting ready to go to a party when I was talking to my mom and she had a seizure. She gets seizures often but this one was scary and I called 911. They brought an ambulance and sent her to the emergency room. I drove with my dad to the hospital. For two weeks I was on edge not knowing what would happen and the hospital didn’t know. In the meantime I started my new semester of school and became busy with that. They told us she was improving they thought, but not enough to be confident. As it turned out my birthday occurred on January 25 and instead of getting presents and a birthday dinner me and my dad went to the hospital. I was talking to her and she seemed to be listening and I thought she nodded. The social worker told us though that if there was no real improvement in the next few days we would have to move her to a nursing home to recover.

On January 26, I was up doing my homework when my dad called to tell me the hospital called him. Said my mom had a heart attack and to get there NOW. My dad flew down the expressway, and we got there in record time. We walked to the area where my mom was and I sensed something different. Several people walked towards us, including a priest and I knew. Turns out my mom died when they called but didn’t want to tell us until we got there. We said goodbyes to my mother and they called the funeral home in town to pick her up. The next day we had to go there and make the arrangements, which was difficult. The following Wednesday was her wake/funeral and the following day we drove to the cemetery where her cremains were buried. One thing about funerals is that you can see who is there for you and who is not. Several people I thought were decent not only didn’t show, they didn’t even email me condolences. In fact a few bashed my mom. Needless to say I’ll never talk to them again. Others were very kind, including people from the church and library. When my mother died my grandfather (her father) was still alive but in the latter stages of Alzheimers. It was agreed that we wouldn’t tell him. Three weeks later he passed away. Just a month ago my mom’s last blood aunt passed away at 105 (she has one aunt who is an aunt by marriage still living). This aunt was more like a grandmother as she helped raise both my grandmother (mom’s mom) when their parents died, but also my mom). So we had three deaths this year, but of course losing my mom was the worst because she was only 69.

Then the week before Ash Wednesday I got sick, really sick. I have been suffering from severe psoriasis for years and they put me on medicine that helped me go into remission. Life was great until I noticed both the psoriasis and the arthritis coming back, which was odd. I went to the dermatologist and discovered that I had a form of strep and with a serious disease the medicine makes it worse. That Friday I came home from working as a writing instructor and started to feel sick. I started throwing up and all weekend was sick. That Monday I was feeling a little bit better and helped decorate for the Beef dinner on Fat Tuesday at church. I get there and start running a fever and went home to sleep. The next day I couldn’t help at the event as my fever went to 102. I started actually hallucinating which was scary and prevented me from going to church on Ash Wednesday and work all week. By the following week I was feeling better and thought it was over, but nope.

I then got really sick again and went to my doctor. They immediately sent me to the hospital because I had Erythroderma. This is a severe skin disease that kills. I was severely dehydrated and throwing up. When I went to the emergency room they also found out I had a severe kidney infection. So for a month or so I couldn’t eat anything, was cold and couldn’t walk. Yes, on top of everything else my feet swelled and I was unable to walk. I literally had to have my dad help me with basic things like cleaning. Talk about feeling stupid. I slept most of the time or watched tv. So finally around April I started to feel better for about a week then got sick again. I went back to my doctor and he did some x-rays. He did various bloodwork and saw my liver was failing and so was my gall bladder. He told me it looked like I had stage 4 liver cancer but wanted to make sure. I have never been more afraid. Long story short, it was nasty flu that appeared to be causing liver and gall bladder problems. One of the reasons was because I was throwing up everything. He told me to eat oatmeal, which I did and my bloodwork came out okay. Eventually everything went back to normal, except my psoriasis and arthritis. I struggled with those until the fall. I lost over 40 pounds and my hair fell out on top of it. I have never been so sick. Luckily I recovered and everything is back to normal. I’ve even gone back to working out.

Then there is the issue with school. I went back to school to become an addictions counselor along with a licensed professional counseling. Even though I managed to maintain a 4.0 (when I was so sick I did my homework in my bed) they didn’t think I was qualified to be a counselor. Why? who knows, but probably because I said I didn’t want to work in bad areas (and if you follow the news then you know the south side of Chicago is bad). I also made it clear I wanted to work with veterans, and they didn’t like it. I’m checking into the doctorate program for counseling which will allow me to be a counselor and also be a professor.

I can’t wait for 2018. The rest of the year looks like a lot of activities, including going to see Star Wars tomorrow, Christmas Eve mass, Christmas with just my dad and maybe a party on New Years Eve. Then I can say goodbye to this horrible year.

Exercise in Futility

It’s been rather a while since I last wrote something here.  I’ve been frantically busy at work.  Until this year, I had exactly one instance where I had to pull an all-nighter (actually a bit more than that, as my all-nighters typically start around 7:00 am) in the service of my career.  This summer, I had four.  Such, it seems, is the way of the world….

*          *          *

Exercise Your Right to Vote

Recently, message boards have been installed in the subway stations that indicate when the next train is arriving.   On the whole, it’s a good thing.  But yesterday morning, I looked up and was reminded to ‘exercise my right to vote.’  It bothered me.  If a friend reminds me to vote, it’s OK; if the League of Women Voters reminds me to vote, they’re doing their job.  But when the people who run the subway feel the need to remind me to vote, I have to wonder what the racket is.

Alas, voting seems an exercise in futility.  This year, NYC elects a mayor.  The incumbent, Bill de Blasio, is almost certain to be re-elected, not so much for his stellar achievements, but because of a dearth of opposition.  The Republican candidate, Nicole Malliotakis, doesn’t seem to have much of a platform other than that she isn’t de Blasio.

I don’t like de Blasio: he’s an echo of the leftist mayors of the past who ran the city into the ground in the 1970s and 1980s.  On the other hand, other than his influence-peddling scandals, I can’t see that he has actually done anything terribly wrong.  The wheels have not fallen off the city; crime is still at historic lows; we still have something that vaguely resembles prosperity.

But that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

The other major item this year is a referendum to hold a state Constitutional Convention.  The US constitution is short (20 pages, give or take), concise, and to the point.  The New York State constitution runs to about 300 pages, and includes all sorts of things that should properly be in the domain of the state legislature.  As a result, the actual state legislature is reduced to nibbling around the edges, and a legislature with nothing useful to do is truly the devil’s workshop.

One of the provisions of the State Constitution is that, every 20 years, there should be a referendum on whether to hold a Constitutional Convention.  Such a convention could propose amendments which then would go before the voters.

There are many who are opposed to a convention.  Civil servants, for example, don’t want anyone to change the provision that civil service pensions are sacrosanct: they can be increased at will (which the politicians will do when they’re feeling flush), but never decreased. And even if you believe that the State Constitution needs a kick in the pants, the Convention will likely not be much help, as it will be filled with the current political class, with a vested interest in the status quo.

Still, hope springs eternal.  I made the effort and got to the polls in a driving rain.  I voted for Nicole and for a constitutional convention, even though I know they’re both losing propositions.  I got an ‘I voted’ sticker, something that has appeared in NYC voting places in the last few years:
I Voted

I have to wonder what the point of the sticker is: my fascination with stickers started to wane… when I was six.

Presidents Don’t Matter

In August 2013, or so we were told at the time, the Syrian government launched a chemical attack against one of its own towns, killing by various estimates between 300 and 1700 people.  The Syrian government vehemently denied that it had done such a thing, and a UN investigation was ultimately inconclusive.

At the time, our Dear Leader, President Obama, felt the need to intervene and positively stop such attacks in the future.  But there was not the political will to invade Syria, so instead he moaned about how someone could take this problem off his hands.  The Russians were happy to oblige.

A week and a half ago, or so we were told at the time, the Syrian government launched a chemical attack against one of its own towns, killing under 100 people.  The Syrian government vehemently denied it had done such a thing.

At the time, President Trump felt the need to send a message that such behavior would not be tolerated.  He sent a bouquet of cruise missiles to destroy the airbase from which the attack was launched.  The matter was over and done with within 72 hours.  And the media started to regard Trump as an actual President, rather than a blithering idiot.

If the attack really took place as described in the media, then President Trump’s response was appropriate.  We don’t need to invade Syria, but we do need to keep our word that some things are unacceptable.

I want to believe that.  I really do.  My life would be much calmer that way.  My problem is that some things just don’t fit:

  • Why would the Syrian government do such a thing? They had supposedly cooperated with the US and the Russians to rid themselves of chemical weapons.  Using them now would throw all that away, and anger Russia, their new patron.
  • What’s the point of a chemical attack that kills under 100 people, many of them children? It won’t accomplish any rational military objective, and will only make everyone mad.

The compelling alternative is that the attack earlier this month was a put-up job, staged to frame the Syrian government.  There are others besides the Syrian government who would have far more to gain from an alleged Syrian chemical attack.

And if that’s the case, then either President Trump knows it’s a put-up job, or he doesn’t.

  • If he knows that the attack is fake, then he has not only failed to ‘drain the swamp’ as promised, he has neatly ensconced himself as Head Alligator. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and surprisingly quickly.
  • If he doesn’t, and he was misled by our intelligence agencies, then the conspiracy theorists are right: there really is an entrenched, unelected shadow government that has the real power, and the elected officials are just window dressing.

In either case, the bottom line is that this episode has demonstrated that Presidents don’t matter.   If Hillary Clinton had won the election, I don’t see how things would have happened differently.

But beyond that, it’s been several years now, and I’m still perplexed by our official animus against Syrian President Bashar Assad.  It isn’t just chemical weapons: we’ve tolerated various stripes of tyrants against their own people in the past, because they were our allies against a larger adversary.  Saddam Hussein, a genuine evil dictator, was our bestest friend for years because he stood against the Russians.  As the leader of a secular Arab state, Assad should be a natural ally.  But he isn’t.

That, alas, is a question for another day.

No Repeal

I railed against Obamacare (officially the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) in these pages when it was enacted in 2010.

On the other hand, it really hasn’t had much of a practical impact on me and my family.  For just about all my adult life, I’ve had health insurance one way or another.  Going without is not an option: a trip to the hospital for almost anything costs tens of thousands of dollars.  Many of the features of Obamacare (equal premiums for men and women, no exclusion of pre-existing conditions, etc.) were already the law in New York.  I didn’t have a health insurance plan that I was particularly attached to, so it didn’t bother me when the insurance company changed my plan at renewal time to something compliant with the new regulations.

In fact, the only thing I really noticed was that there was a little bit of a lull in premium increases for a couple of years (and even a cut at one point, on changing plans), and then the premiums resumed their skyward march (between about 7% and 22% every year).

In one of my posts, I anticipated that health care might end up swallowing even more of the nation’s GDP than the 17% or so in 2010, but that hasn’t happened: health care as a percentage of GDP has remained steady since Obamacare was enacted.

Nevertheless, although my objections are more philosophical than practical, I still consider Obamacare the worst public policy decision of our time.  For years, the Republicans railed against it, and swore they would repeal it, given the chance.

Last week, they tried, and failed.  A bill was drawn up, then withdrawn as there were not the votes to pass it.

And now, all sides are engaged in pointless posturing.  The Democrats are crowing that they saved Obamacare from the jaws of the Republicans; President Trump is blaming everyone but himself.

But the plan to ‘repeal’ Obamacare was fouled up from the beginning:

  • House Speaker Paul Ryan went to great lengths to discuss the process by which Obamacare would be undone, but there was little discussion about what the Republicans would do. (Not coming across anything in the press, I finally had to turn to Wikipedia for a coherent explanation.)
  • As a result, the opposition was able to seize the narrative: they’re trying to take your health care away from you!
  • The most salient feature of the American Health Care Act was that it dropped the requirements for individuals to carry insurance, and for large employers to make it available to their employees. But many if not most of the people for whom this is an issue have the means and the inclination to secure their own health insurance (whether on their own or through their employers), and would do so even in the absence of a mandate.
  • The most toxic features of Obamacare, including the requirements to issue insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions and to allow children to remain on their parents’ policies until halfway to middle age, are the most politically popular, and were taken off the table by President Trump before any of the negotiations started.

Ultimately, it’s on the Republicans to present a compelling alternative to Obamacare, rather than nibbling around the edges.  Sadly, I’m not sure that’s possible.

When countries have implemented ‘socialized medicine,’ there have always been limits.  Whether they are designed into the program to begin with, or are worked out in implementation, there are necessarily limits, because the resources of even a prosperous nation are finite.  But under Obamacare, everyone has the right to health insurance that can, in theory, provide infinite benefits.  (After all, one’s health is priceless!)  This theory hasn’t been tested yet, but that will come in time.  And while Obamacare does admit administrative limitation of benefits, that hasn’t happened yet.

Consequently, the Republicans are in a position where they must compete with the theoretically infinite benefits of Obamacare.  They can’t argue that Obamacare is unsustainable, not only because the problems haven’t emerged, but because the whole Federal government, on its present course, is unsustainable.  They’re constrained to keep the elements of Obamacare most in need of change because those elements are politically popular.  And ultimately, they can’t practically propose to really repeal Obamacare, and they’re stuck with uselessly fussing with it.

At this point, we’ll have to wait until the whole enterprise keels over to try again.

The case of the runaway radiator….

Last weekend, my bedroom radiator went out of control. It made a lot of noise and then got red hot.

It was so hot it was untouchable — and it ran and ran all day, The temperature kept going up.

I had a puddle of water on the floor from where the condensation happened after I bled it — and then on Sunday about 2 pm, the radiator shut down.

I gave Landlord a call yesterday and told him that now I had no heat and that the radiator was out of control all weekend…

Here is why:

Last Friday night at 9:20, Next Door Neighbor took a rock and willfully broke the window on the ground floor where the guy in the front apartment lives; this is the apartment under mine — and the deli across the street caught her on video tape doing so. There are security cameras there.

All the cold air got into that apartment and that’s why the boiler worked overtime and this is why my radiator was smoking red hot all weekend. We have no individual boilers.

Not to mention what would have happened if that rock hurt my neighbor.

I think he was away when all of this happened. I think he still is away. Wonder if he was told she broke his window?

I saw the cops come and get her on Sunday and that’s a whole story in itself. (They didn’t even tell her what charge it was; they more or less said “you’re arrested and come with us.”This is not how you officially arrest a perp! And that’s why this is so horrific and so wrong! ) I am still angry at that. This isn’t what you do, break a window willfully…but anyway — they came and got her and looks like she will not be returning.

She will have to wait for a judge — that could take who knows how long — and a public defender will have to prepare her case. Then the judge will have to decide how much bail she will have to pay — likely she can’t pay the 10% to a bailbondsman so she will sit in that county jail until her hearing.

She is likely to get 6 months in jail for being a disorderly person, if the damage is under $500 .

Or possibly more if there is more monetary damage; a judge has to evaluate what kind of damage this is and how it was caused. That’s also possibly 3rd degree criminal mischief and 3 to 5 years in jail.

And being that Landlord replaced the entire window — not just the pane of glass — you can bet that is easily $600 to replace one window. He didn’t care about the 600 bills — he’s got homeowners/property insurance, so he will see that money returned to him.

So now there is possibly 3 to 5 years in jail, too.:( proves again that she never had any business living on her own — she needed to be in a group setting.

Also likely she will have a psych exam whilst in that county jail and awaiting the judge — and be sent to some psych jail somewhere in the county or state, while she waits for the hearing. You know there are always delays and postponements and there are also immates that are ahead of you, waiting for their turn at a hearing or sentencing.

She won’t be coming back.

Her apartment will be given over to somebody else; no county entity will pay for an apartment somebody is not in whilst they are in a jail.  She has been gone since Sunday afternoon. (and for all intents and purposes, he should go in there and remove the garbage, at the very least. This is a week she is gone and no doubt she’s got a ton of trash — I once saw her emerge with 3 huge bags of trash)

I never bought it that she was harmless.  Anybody who willfully breaks a window has a problem.

Landlord is having a cash flow problem…or so it seems to be.

Probably slow on the draw thanks to the mind being boggled by recent current events…but hey…I finally got it. Ain’t I smart.:(

I have a toilet tank that needs adjusting (the water needs more oomph so that it flushes all the way; the same problem happened in April and it was fixed in 2 minutes).

There is a leak near the kitchen window. He sent a guy to investigate, then told me somebody would be there in about an hour….and nothin’ happened. That was December.

My kitchen window creaks and buckles in a strong wind. I told him that in January 8th…he said okay…and nobody came to fix it.

And the kitchen radiator does not work. I told him about 5 times that there is no heat in the kitchen….no repair.

3 days ago, a little notecard envelope arrived in the mail. Didn’t recognize the handwriting. Didn’t have my glasses but it looked like Landlord’s wife was on the return addy.

Uh…it was.

In long hand on the inside is notice of my rent increase. “$1318”??? what an odd odd number. And effective next month. Dude — I have not been here a year; it is a year April 1st.

I wonder if this guy is behind on back taxes — I wonder.:( And if he’s not behind on back taxes, why the odd amount for rent? Wouldn’t you think he’d make it an even number??

The garage roof is leaking. In that garage is nothing but odds and ends — old table, furniture, boxes, etc. Funny how he feels the need to rent out that garage — it’s like he’s trying to make ends meet in a hurry.

As it is he has tenants do the repairs…haha, this is like Litchfield; he hires his tenants to do the repairs that a pro should do. He probably has no money to pay anyone…or maybe he simply doesn’t want to pay anyone.

If he has a cash flow problem, I find it worrisome. I am trying to get out of here and find a dig friendly apartment. I am leery of this neighborhood and I find it unsettling that Neighbor next door is not permitted to have a phone. What if there is a fire? Landlord had the answer: There are alarms.

Alarms? A fire can spread in minutes! Suppose she can’t even get to the fire escape or the door? We all go up in flames???

(he also claims he has no idea who pays for Neighbor’s apartment. c’mon…somebody’s name is on the check. or does that money show up on his doorstep in an envelope with “For J.” written on it? Who ya kiddin?

Getting back to the rent increase:

I cannot believe how silly he and his wife are. You mean to tell me she can’t type up the notice and mail it in a business envelope?? She hasn’t got a typewriter? You put it on a silly notecard??? This isn’t how business is done.

If there is a major breakdown of the furnace or the roof heads south during a storm — what happens?

Some Food For Thought

A friend on Facebook shared this thought provoking essay.

This is a must read!!
From Heather Richardson, professor of History at Boston College:
“I don’t like to talk about politics on Facebook– political history is my job, after all, and you are my friends– but there is an important non-partisan point to make today.
What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries– is creating what is known as a “shock event.”
Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order.
When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.
Last night’s Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.
Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.
My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one’s interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won’t like.
I don’t know what Bannon is up to– although I have some guesses– but because I know Bannon’s ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle– and my friends range pretty widely– who will benefit from whatever it is.
If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.
But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.
A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union.
If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln’s strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power.
Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it.”
If you’d like to share, COPY AND PASTE. DON”T “SHARE”

Trying to sign up for health insurance…

My first stop was United healthcare, who I had covering me up until about 4 years ago.

Everything went fine until somehow the system hung and it couldn’t be “called up.”:(

I tried the Obamacare hotline.:(

I told them I was retired and had no income and they told me I was ineligible for Obamacare and that Medicaid would be what coverage was mine.

I said “That all goes through the county in our state. Isn’t that county government who more or less ‘runs’ it, and no the federal government?” She couldn’t answer my question.

I need coverage from somewhere and I am going to keep on trying…..

And today’s try — writing this as an addendum; today is Tuesday…

Is to no avail.

United Healthcare quoted me $600. What the hell? Do they think all of us are made of money?

We’re screwed and that’s that.

And don’t get me started again about wanting to go back to work. I fucking can’t believe this happened to me.

President Trump’s First Week

A week ago Friday, I stopped to watch President Trump’s inaugural address.  Halfway through, I was almost expecting machine guns to open up and blow him to bits.  How dare he say things like this, when we’re all supposed to be caught up in the moment:

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

But, in fact, he’s right.  We are a troubled nation, and the first step in fixing the troubles is acknowledging that they exist.

The next day, I dug up Obama’s address from 2009, and replayed Trump’s version.  There were telling similarities: both Presidents were representing themselves as a break from the past and a new direction.  But Obama was polite and circumspect, like a politician, while Trump was blunt and forceful, like a new CEO brought in to resurrect a failing corporation.

*          *          *

Enough with the posturing, already.

Many fewer people showed up to witness Trump’s inauguration in 2017 than Obama’s in 2009.  The weather was worse this year; Trump is another white guy; many in the northeast United States, within 200-300 miles of Washington, supported the other candidate.  Perhaps some people even imagined that machine guns might open up in the middle of the inaugural address.

But then the new Administration waded into the issue to challenge what seemed an obvious truth.  It doesn’t accomplish anything and just makes them look petty.

Similarly, the President of Mexico, perhaps riled by some of President Trump’s statements, cancelled his planned visit.  Trump responded:

The President of Mexico and myself have agreed to cancel our planned meeting scheduled for next week. Unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly, with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless, and I want to go a different route.

No, you didn’t mutually agree: he cancelled.  If he hadn’t, the meeting would still be happening.  Don’t pretend otherwise.

*          *          *

Yesterday’s Daily News featured a graphic of the Statue of Liberty weeping in response to President Trump’s executive orders on immigration.  “Trump needs to read the inscription on the statue,” someone remarked at the restaurant where my wife and I were having lunch.

Well, maybe.

A century ago, the ‘huddled masses’ and ‘wretched refuse’ came to America under their own power.  They saved their money and paid for their own passage.  They knew there were hardships and dangers, and that they would have to adapt to their new land, not the other way around.

It would be one thing if people organized a charitable endeavor to bring refugees into the United States.  The government’s role in this would be issuing visas for entry and nothing more.  Congress could authorize some quantity of refugee visas to be paid for by the taxpayers, but that would be it.  The charities running the operation would be responsible for transportation, providing a place for the refugees to stay when they arrived, and acclimating them to life in the United States.

But that isn’t what’s happening.  The government is funding, at taxpayer expense, the arrival of these refugees.  There are religious organizations, functioning as government contractors, doing the work.

We didn’t do this a century ago.   Why do we feel the need to do it now?  What national interest does it serve?

Alas, I didn’t get the memo.

Russian Hacking?

“CIA believes Russia helped Donald Trump win the White House,” read the headline in the Daily News back in December.  How did they accomplish this extraordinary feat? I wondered.  Hacked voting machines in Pennsylvania?  Mass hypnosis in Oklahoma?  Itching powder in Hillary’s bedroom?

Alas, nothing quite so dramatic:

Officials briefed on the matter told the Washington Post the assessment found that several individuals with close ties to Moscow provided anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails in order to boost Trump and harm Hillary Clinton’s chances.

OK, they may have a point.  We don’t know how WikiLeaks gets the documents that it publishes, and, although WikiLeaks denies it, it’s entirely possible that the trove of e-mails published in the runup to the elections came from Russia.

But in that case, whose fault is it?  The Russians, for pursuing their national interests, or Hillary, for maintaining a private e-mail server that was eminently hackable?  And the Democratic party, for not doing proper IT security?

It’s particularly interesting that nobody has suggested that the WikiLeaks e-mails are bogus.  WikiLeaks had to be stopped—so said our President—not because they were fanciful storytellers, but because their documents were real.

So the Russians influenced our election… by making available information that the government would rather we didn’t know?  Given that the information was acquired as a consequence of the carelessness and hubris of our leadership, how is this a bad thing?  Sorry, guys: the exclusionary rule (that information gained in violation of Fourth Amendment rules cannot be used in a criminal trial) doesn’t apply.  Hillary Clinton is not on criminal trial.  (Or does someone imagine that she is?)

For the moment, let’s grant the report as written.  It’s entirely plausible that (a) Russia forwarded hacked e-mails to WikiLeaks, and (b) did so to favor Trump in the election.  But does that mean that (c) in the absence of such action, Hillary would have won?

I doubt it.

In the weeks before the election, WikiLeaks e-mail reports made the rounds of the alternative media, but didn’t get very much play in the mainstream media.  As far as Hillary herself, the e-mails didn’t really deliver any new revelations as much as confirmation of what we had already surmised.  It’s a preposterous stretch to go from ‘Russians delivered hacked e-mails to WikiLeaks’ to believing that ‘Trump won the election thanks to Russian hacking.’

In the following week, we learned:

  • The President knew about ‘Russian hacking’ several weeks before the election, but our leadership claimed that they didn’t act because they didn’t want to appear to be favoring Hillary. But there were rumblings in the news at the time, and if the President wanted to do something, prudence would dictate that he would have to do so quietly, without calling a press conference.
  • The Republicans suffered hacking attempts from the same actors, at about the same time. But the GOP is apparently better at IT security, and the hacking attempts were not successful.

I had expected this issue to go away after Trump was confirmed in the Electoral College vote on 19 December.  But it’s still with us, and today Congress will vote to ratify the Electoral College results and confirm Trump as President-elect.

Our current leadership has been briefed on this issue, and seems to believe it, even though no specifics have come out in the press.  (I guess all the specifics are deep dark secrets.)  Trump is scheduled to be briefed today, and even though he’s given to running off at the mouth on Twitter, I don’t expect that to happen this time.

We shall see….

What say do I have in any of this?

This has to do with that neighbor.:(

2 weeks ago the cops were here to see her (I heard the whole conversation; I was on the inside decorating my tree).

Seems as though somebody down at that shopping center complained Neighbor tried to touch her child.

First she denied being there. Then she sort of said she was ther and the cops said “If you do it again we will arrest you.” they asked her for the current date and she said “December 5, 1916 – 17.”

I spoke to the cops about this I got the same song and dance as last time. They more or less poo pooed the whole thing.

I told Landlord what happened. He claimed he spoke to the cops and he says there is no way she can be evicted.

Today I heard a commotion outside at 9 am; I heard a lot of metal and clanking and guys’ voices raised. I thought it was a truck unloading. And then I heard loud banging.

I decided to go see what was going on — I heard a guy say “you can’t get in that way” — there’s the front door shaking and pounding.

I said “Who is it?” “Police!”

Christ…was this an emergency??? I opened the door and guess what:

They were breaking the door down because she is locked out.

I’ve never heard of anything so bent. Oh? The cops come a running because she is locked out? Nice waste of taxpayer money.

He claims she cannot be evicted so long as “she” is paying ‘her” rent. She isn’t paying the rent. Allegedly she is here due to some public mental health program that’s placed her here. I don’t think that is it — there’d be a conservator and social workers and site visits: she has had none of that.

I cannot be out of here until fall. Very long story and I am upset about that — and until then, I have to put up with this potentially unsafe little geek that lives on the same floor as I do. When do they remove her? When an incident occurs and somebody gets harmed, like a child???

I cannot believe that the cops let that go. Wonder what they told the child’s mother? WOW, if this was my child I’d have stormed that mayor’s office demanding their removal!

Catering to her, yet — I said something to that effect when the cops said “We are here because she’s locked out” — and I capped it with “Unbelieveable!” and stormed upstairs.

No way at all I can complain about her to some county agency and see if they can’t remove her? I am sure the police report is there for the record — and by rights, that incident should have been reported to that agency, IF there is an agency responsible for her being here in the first place.

How lousy. All of it. And nobody cares. All he wants is her rent money.

A decision to make

On Sunday, I returned from a visit with cousins. I was there for about a week.

They live in a much different part of the country; very large distance from here.

It is a whole new way of life. it is considered country and rural; the nearest large city is about 3 hours away.

Living is pretty cheap there; you can rent for next to nothing –half of what the rent is here — or buy a home at a fraction of the cost (and a fraction of the property taxes) of a home purchased out here. There is no urban sprawl and no infiltration of developers. There are homes here where the norm is 2 acres of land with a real nice ranch that goes for maybe 200K. No way can you touch a deal like that in New Jersey.

The thing is this: where does everyone work? I saw no companies, no office parks.

The towns themselves are large — a hundred square miles each in most cases. There are houses and then stretches of land with nothing on them. it’s desert.

If I could find a job out there, I’d be there in no time flat.

I would consider moving to that area in another 2 or 3 years to be sure.

What have I got here? Who have I got here, that is in my corner?

I never heard from Bro again. To be expected. To tell the truth, he could be anywhere; that lease on that apartment was up in September; they could have moved away, maybe not.

I am having a hard time finding good places and good situations where I can meet a bona fide friend. The silence now is deafening. This is now over 7 months of this nonsense where I am completely on my own and alone. It is bothering me now and bothering me greatly.

If I was 30 or even 40, there would be groups to join where I could meet somebody in my age category; where does a 59 year old go, to make a bona fide good friend? Who will you meet that is in the same boat as you — that is not on the hubby track and the grandkiddo track? That shit’s not for me.

I had an art show about a month ago; it was a large contingency of local artists that display every year in this one locale. 6 of us were in the room where we showed art; I know one guy slightly, another guy kind of kept to himself and there was a Hispanic couple who did not speak much English.

The other 3 artists I kind of got to know are good to keep in touch with for art shows and anything art but as bona fide friends I can do things and go places with: no.

(What I am looking for: a group of women and men that I can more or less have as an ‘extended family’ — all of us in the same category and those of us who are more or less free of family. No egos, no hangups, no phonies, no temper tantrums; this would be broad-minded, fun and smart adults) 

I haven’t got that many relatives left: one cousin is 50 miles away and the other 2 are the 2 I visited for Thanksgiving week. I had the time of my life out there.

To pick up and just move there: to me, right now, it is mind blowing. I haven’t got a job here; as I said, where are the jobs out there? I asked about it awhile back and my cousin said nobody was really hiring out there.

I still don’t know how you transcend having no job. How do you move on and get on with life? A therapist helps you get it off your chest but you are still left with the fact that there is no job you are working at.

And in July it looked like things were picking up. Nope. The ads dried up again and the last interview I had was 4 months ago.

I am disappointed with everyone and everything. There were things that didn’t pan out and acquaintances that didn’t deepen into a real friendship. I am better off with new people — people who do not know what happened to me — maybe I can start over with a clean slate.

A friend of mine said “move to a locale that brings nothing  but a smile to your face.” He was talking to a group of us about where he lives, which is New Mexico.

And also a factor, regarding how unsettled I feel right now: the fact those 2 friends took off: now it’s really starting to make me angry. I think I glossed it over when it happened but now I’m mad as hell. And I guarantee you Miss Broadway Tickets is disclosing every confidence of mine and she hasn’t got one nice thing to say about me.

This is real ambivalence: when I think about the 2 of them, I wonder “what the heck was really in this for me, either one of these 2 ‘friendships’?” How often did I see them? Where did we go? what kind of concessions were made for me?

I suggest a really cool trip and I get “I haven’t thought that far ahead right now…” Not the first time she has said it, when I suggest a really cool trip we can take. That is her-ese for “No. I don’t want to go on an exciting vacation.” Bully to her.

In fact, last year in June, I mentioned to her that my cousin was somebody I was planning to visit and she retorted, “Somebody sure must have a lot of money if they are talking about taking all of these trips.”:(

I replied, “he has offered to fly me out and pay my fare.” She shut her damn jealous mouth.

Maybe I should have bidden her adieu months ago. Geez…you are going to be 60 soon and you are acting like you are SIX??? Who makes a comment like that, really?

But still you are mad the 2 of them took off, and rightfully so. When will somebody come along to fill the void? We need people and we all need friends. We need them: but never again 2 “friends” like the  2 who took off on me.  And I will be damned if I make the same mistake and decide to have more sticks in the mud as friends: NO MORE.

All of this is why I am really tempted to move to the area where my cousins are…but as I said: what about a job???

I would at least have next of kin nearby: how do you think I feel about that? I have no next of kin. Not out here .

Don’t kid yourself — bro would NEVER come to my aid and he would give a fuck less what happened to me. You don’t think I am not scared of that? What about me: who have I got? There is nobody I can call if I have an emergency.

And shit: Remember the episode last year where my heart sped up?

When I told the both of them what happened to me, neither one of these 2 friends said to me “I will leave my cell phone on. If you need somebody to help, you can call me.”

And back in  May, right after I had that nosebleed that I wound up going to the emergency room for — I told my other friend what happened.

At the conclusion of the story, she did not say to me “call me if you need somebody in case of an emergency.”

So how much did either one of them care? Perhaps I should have been the one to take the high road in a hurry…a long long time ago.

But I “had” to be available when Miss Tickets had trouble with that asshole boyfriend 2 years back (The one she resumed seeing this past October: this is the one she claimed chased her car and banged on the windows, that time 2 years ago) — she called me on a Sunday morning in August, 2 years ago, crying  about how scared she was and that she needed somebody to talk to and somewhere to go.

Guess who said “come on over.” Now I regret it deeply.

The best place for her was down at the police station, across the street from her apartment building: not at my house: suppose he followed her?

And 7 years ago, I had to be available for her at nearly midnight, when her other boyfriend was dying and she needed somebody to drive her 40 miles up the road to his hospital.

I guess I am a damn dunce, then. And a sucker for everyone.:(

Nobody returns the favor for me when I am the one who needs somebody in case of an emergency.

I just wonder when it is that I get out from under.

As for the one who stiffed me when it came to that Broadway show: she would never come to my apartment building — I think I mentioned this — I gave her 5 sets of directions in April, right after I moved in — and she put up a fuss with all of them, claiming they put her into too much traffic or the directions were tough to follow, etc.

Something was very wrong there. I even went as far as to conclude — a month after she was out of my life — that she must have gotten into a pack of trouble with somebody or something from this town: maybe it’s a RO or an arrest or she was banned from coming to this town? That is my only conclusion.

I am 15 minutes from her apartment. Closer than my old locale…yet she would not come here. Very strange.

There is no way she told me what happened to her, when it happened. If she got into some kind of trouble, then I sure don’t need a friend like this. Makes you wonder what she did with her time that she got into a pickle like that one which possibly can be a legal one indeed. C’mon: why else is she refusing to COME here?

So that is where I stand right now.

I guess I am still trying to get my bearings. 🙁

Reaping the Whirlwind

Madam President

Shortly before the election, Newsweek went to press with an issue commemorating Hillary Clinton’s victory.  They made a business decision and took a calculated risk, and they lost.  But some of the inside front cover copy caught my attention:

…But as the tone of the election went darker and more bizarre by the day, President-Elect Hillary Clinton “went high” when her opponent and his supporters went ever lower….

Well, maybe.  Much of Hillary Clinton’s campaigning was built around the notion that she is not Donald Trump.  But, in any event, she didn’t have to run a negative campaign.  The media ran it for her.

It’s normal in politics to favor one candidate over another, and it’s normal (and appropriate) to point out a candidate’s shortcomings.  Ultimately, the voters assess the good and the bad about the candidates, and make their decision.

Donald Trump has made many insensitive remarks, some of them borderline racist.   But there is a big difference between making a racist remark and being an actual racist.  We all know people who are given to running off at the mouth and saying stupid things, but we know that they don’t mean anything by it.  (Alternately, there are some who would say that racism is America’s original sin and that we’re all racists.  But even then, there is a big difference between a mere sinner and a Ku Klux Klansman.)

The media seemed to overlook this essential difference.  Perhaps it’s that in the modern world, no story is worth telling if it can’t be told in five seconds.  Perhaps it helped to sell newspapers.

And Trump refused to play the game.  He could have walked back his statements and gotten all mumbly, and shown himself to be Just Another Useless Politician.

The media came to tell us that Trump is not just a man who runs off at the mouth, he’s a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic bigot.

It’s normal in politics for a candidate to call his opponent nasty names.  But among politicians, there are limits: after all, you might need a favor from your opponent, or his party, in the future.  This is the first time I’ve seen the news media vilify a candidate on their own power.

In fairness, there have been radio announcers and other public figures who lost their jobs over making insensitive remarks.  It’s totally OK, when assessing candidates for office, to make a similar judgement and hold a candidate’s remarks against him.  It’s OK for a newspaper to run an editorial endorsing whatever candidate the newspaper prefers, under whatever criteria they care to use.  What isn’t OK is for a newspaper or TV network to let their editorial viewpoints color their non-editorial reporting of events.

Perhaps it makes for exciting television.  But it can backfire, not just for the news media, but for the rest of us: what happens if the ‘evil’ candidate wins?

*          *          *

In other news, South Korea has been overtaken by political protests: people are very angry at their President, who is resisting calls to resign.  It seems that Madam President in Seoul, among other things, has been sharing government secrets with a female personal advisor who has no security clearance.

And we’ve hardly heard a peep about it in the US.  I wonder why….

Popping the Bubble

Fire Hydrant

Perhaps.  But you could say the same thing about Hillary Clinton.

Last night, I was watching election returns in a restaurant with some friends in the Upper East Side.  It was a little before 9:00: early returns put Trump and Clinton about even.  We had just paid the check.

“Do I want to see the 9:00 projections?  No, I don’t.” I told the group, and left.

I headed down Second Avenue, got a Citibike, rode it across the Queensborough Bridge to Long Island City, and got a G train home.  The ride cleared my head.

But I’ve had a bellyful of this election, and I didn’t want any more.  When I got home, I finished some paperwork—studiously avoiding anything that even smelled like a news report—took a shower, and went to bed.

And now it’s 5:09 Wednesday morning, and I still don’t know who won.

But having lived through a few Presidential elections, I can tell when my preferred candidate is about to lose.  It’s not that I think Trump is a great guy.  But we need a new direction in this country, and Clinton, as far as I can tell, will continue the policies of her predecessor and keep us limping along for another few years.

I actually bought a copy of Stronger Together, the Clinton campaign book, to try and understand where she was coming from.  While the description of our problems in the first chapter is spot-on, the solutions she proposes are either vague, ineffective, or will make the problem worse.  I realized just last night that the vague policy prescriptions are a feature, not a bug: if you don’t put forward specific policies, people won’t be able to object to them.

Yesterday, I discussed the vote at some length with my son.  He voted for Clinton.  His reactions to events were almost the opposite of mine: Clinton’s private e-mail server, which hit me like a punch in the gut (she’s disrespecting her office and the American people!), seemed a bit of abstract technological trivia to him.  And Trump’s offhand remarks, which struck me as the mark of a man given to running off at the mouth, hit my son like a punch in the gut (how dare Trump even consider messing with a woman’s right to choose?).

In any case, it’s time to pop the bubble.

Trump won!

My sense of ‘a candidate about to lose’ was off this year.

There may be hope for us, after all….

12:31 EST and not looking so good for HRC

Holy God.

it’s like a bomb hit the Javits Center — those people are silent, blank eyed and devastated.

What happened here?

This jerkoff broke every rule and pissed off everybody from here to Alpha Centauri. He’s insulted everybody he can find and stopped at nothing to say everything and anything disgusting and stomach turning.

It’s like everybody in the states “nobody really lives in” voted for him.

All of a sudden, this was….just gone, for her. When they announced Florida swung in his direction, it was over after that.

I will be up for awhile, probably until about 3 am.

Unfuckingbelievable. The Big Tangerine Pussy Snatcher has won the election.

Three people have told me they are shit scared — told me this all along and said so again, this morning — both of them don’t know what to do or where to go.

And now we have to “wait for Wisconsin.” Another stupid state that’s like some kind of a joke – what happened here??

This is the end of everything as we know it. Simply because a nonpolitician won — and because this fruitcake won.

244 to 215. I can’t see how she can win. 5 states are on the map that can go any way.

God help us all. What a sad sad thing for us and what a travesty and heartbreaker. You and I know he has no intention of keeping any promise he has made.

The Seeds of Its Own Destruction

Twenty-five years ago, when the Soviet Union imploded, I remarked that ‘Communism carried the seeds of its own destruction:’ the Communists worked really hard at educating their own people (when in the past education had been limited to the very wealthy and to royalty), and after a couple of generations, the newly educated people realized that they didn’t want to be Communist.  The Reagan Republicans were so proud that they had defeated Communism, and while they doubtless accelerated events, the writing was on the wall before they started.

As I’ve been watching a lackluster economy muddle through the last few years, I’m starting to wonder if capitalism doesn’t carry the seeds of its own destruction, as well.  I always understood capitalism as somewhat of a competitive sport, and competition brings the need for optimization: why do X when Y is easier/better/cheaper/faster?  If you don’t optimize, your competitors will.

But what if optimization leads to destruction?

The other day, my wife was watching a speech by Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook.  (The introduction and the graphics are in Korean, but the speech and the Q&A session afterward are in English.)

And about five minutes in, I heard something that was jaw-dropping:

People mistakenly think that ‘capitalism’ and ‘competition’ are somehow synonyms.  I think they are antonyms.

On one level, of course, Thiel is right.  The most profitable businesses are those that don’t have to compete.  The ideal case is a monopoly, but running an enterprise subject to heavy government regulation (which has the effect of making competition impossible) or being a member of a cartel (so that you don’t have to compete on price) is almost as good.  Once an enterprise gets to a certain size, it can lobby the government to enact regulations to ‘protect the public’ (that sounds good!) but more practically serve to entrench the enterprise and preclude competition.

Moreover, competition is, well, wasteful.  It means that companies must do things that won’t always succeed, and will sometimes lose.  If we could optimize away the need for competition, the waste could be turned into profit.

While that may be a charming thought, competition is what keeps capitalism dynamic.  Capitalism without competition is… something else.  It may be corporatism, or fascism, or even feudalism.  Capitalism without competition is the fat, dumb, and happy getting fatter, dumber, and happier, and the rest of us getting screwed over.

And there is the nub: in optimizing past the need for competition, capitalism has defeated itself.  It no longer does the things we expect capitalism to do: it doesn’t provide opportunities on a broad scale; it doesn’t inspire us to do better and try harder.  Unless you have connections or are spectacularly lucky, post-competitive capitalism has nothing to offer you.

This election and my official endorsement

While watching the debates and all the media I am reminded of so many things but mostly the issues with racism and sexism. like it or not, this election is a reflection of our values, good or bad.  This election is such a horrible situation that I was inclined at one time to vote third party. However, that would be a poor choice.

Before I official announce who I endorse let me state: I don’t like either one but I hate one and think that person is the most unqualified person to ever run.  Therefore, I am endorsing Hillary Clinton.  Quite frankly, Trump scares me. Do I have questions about the emails? yes but I have more questions about Trump’s hatred towards others, especially women. He is demeaning too many women. I was leaning towards Gary Johnson but he stands little chance.

The world is changing…