A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

My Fabulous Roller Coaster Ride

I've talked a lot about everything except myself. For those of you dying to know what's going on (and thank you both), here's the rundown: it's been a hell of a roller coaster ride in the SpaceGhoti home the past couple of weeks. Stress levels are running high, finances are quirky and the availability of hot water varies from day to day. Fun times, right?

So, to begin. At the beginning of the month we the hot water ran out in the apartment complex. Grant Plaza isn't the most modern building with all the conveniences of home, but we could always depend on scalding hot water. Okay, call the building manager and let 'em know what's up. Friday passes. No feedback, and no hot water, either. Call several more times, including the backup maintenance number. No response, and again no hot water. Of course, this is Labor Day Weekend, so people are out for an extended period of time. I figure on Tuesday we'll see some action. I call, but get nothing.

Finally at the end of the week I get fed up and find the number for the city's Health and Safety. I probably should have done it before then, but I'm kind of stupid that way. The lady on the phone assures me that this is a high priority and will likely have an inspector out the same day. I get a reference number. Finally, the ability to take a hot shower in time for the weekend.

It never happens. We spend the rest of the weekend without hot water, still calling management the whole time. We also get a letter from someone claiming to be the owner wanting the money directly. I add that question to the voicemails I leave for the building manager. I get no word on that.

Monday I call Health and Safety again and mention the reference number. I'm transferred to the city inspector who says he never heard anything about it. But he goes out and makes his inspection. Finally the management company does something, and the next day we have hot water for a few hours. Then it goes cold again.

The inspector and I end up on a first-name basis, because I'm calling to report whenever the hot water goes out. Generally we have a day without hot water, followed by a few hours of hot water in the evening, then another day or two without it. As of this date, we have not had consistent hot water for more than two days in a row; we've certainly been without it more often than with it. Consequently, we eat out far too much because washing dishes in cold water doesn't fly.

At the moment we have hot water. I figure it might last through tomorrow morning.

In the middle of all this I'm discovering I have zero motivation to work for my employer anymore. Too much politics, too many arbitrary policies handed down, no opportunity for feedback in either direction and my boss just doesn't give a damn what I think about anything. Complaints? Problems? Suck it up. I spend more time hunting for new jobs than I do performing my old one. Not a good sign. I do a couple of interviews.

Then T gets a letter from the alleged property owner. This one says that the banks are likely to foreclose on the building, so we're going to need to move in the next month or two. Stress levels, already high, skyrocket. T isn't eating much, and not sleeping well either. A lovely conundrum: her libido explodes when her stress increases, while mine implodes. Gods, I need to find her a harem.

We start looking at new properties, find some things we like but only one we can afford. That one doesn't accept cats, and we're not giving up ours. No rush; we've got time and we really, really need to save as much as humanly possible to be able to afford this move. We're generally not good at that, but we don't have a choice.

This week I learn I landed one of the jobs I interviewed for. It's a lead position for a night deployment that goes through the end of the year. There's a two week unpaid break, then another deployment going through to spring. The employer has a good reputation for hiring people on if they perform well, and I've already impressed them enough that I'm starting in a position of authority. Benefits through the agency are better than what I have with my current employer, and I'll be getting a slight (very slight) raise. I hand in my notice, with a scathing review of my experience with them. My boss goes into spin mode.

We get confirmation that the lady claiming to be the owner is, in fact, the owner. We find this out not through the building manager (whom we haven't heard from in over a month), but by calling the management company directly. I also keep calling them (along with the inspector, Ray) to let them know when the hot water is out. I contact the owner and leave a message asking how she would like to handle prorating rent for the days without hot water. She calls back a little while later and talks my ear off about how the management company has been screwing her over, she hasn't seen money from them in months and how she's having to take them to court. After half an hour of this, I bring the topic back to the prorated rent. She admits she doesn't even know what our lease terms are, and whatever I can send would be GREATLY appreciated. She understands that she's putting the tenants in a bad position with this foreclosure and isn't demanding full rent. Sweet. I point out some other problems we've had with the management company, things she wasn't aware of before that can give her ammunition in court. It seems the company won't even return calls to her lawyer, which suggests they may default in court. Even if they don't, I volunteered as a witness against them.

So, up and down. New job, but it's contract and night work. T hates it when I'm not there at night. We have SOME hot water, but we have to move and can't really afford it. We won't need to pay full rent out of respect for that fact. And I have to deal with another week and half of extreme stress as I try to put my affairs in order at my old employer.

Oh, did I mention that it'll cost more to fix my old laptop than to replace it? It's no wonder people get addicted to the lottery: it's impossible to achieve financial security any longer. I'm betting the reason we're having this subprime lending mess is because the prime lending market was shrinking too fast.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bill to Restore Habeas Corpus Failed. Yet...

This evening I wrote yet another letter to Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO).

As I've vented much spleen over your voting record this session, I thought I'd take the time to praise your vote in the matter of restoring Habeus Corpus. Although the bill was defeated (with help from your Republican counterpart, Senator Allard), you did the right thing by voting for it.

I want to urge you to encourage the Senate to submit that bill again, unchanged, over and over again until the media starts asking why so many our nation's leaders feel that Habeus Corpus deserves the gruesome death it was given in 2006. This is the sort of thing Congress should be doing when a bill is defeated or vetoed: keep resubmitting it, possibly with even more stringent requirements than before. We do NOT accept the lack of a supermajority as an excuse for failure. You can use that to your advantage, by bringing attention to what you're trying to do and why your political opponents are stopping it.

Remember the mandate given to you in the 2006 elections: you were given the majority in both the House and the Senate because the American public isn't buying into the White House's propaganda anymore. The Beltway pundits are more disconnected from American thinking than any other time in history. Their power is waning, and you need to encourage your fellow Senators to do what is right, not what is expedient.

Do NOT wait for the 2008 elections before you fix the damage the Bush administration has done. Do NOT make the excuse that the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats are blocking progress. Keep voting the way you just have and keep re-submitting bills designed to restore the rule of law and bring our troops home. Congress looks incredibly weak, but you have an opportunity to change that. I hope you take it.

Update: Denis Bider corrected me on the spelling of "habeas" rather than "habeus." It has been updated in the title, but not the letter since that's actually how I wrote it to Senator Salazar. Thank you, Denis.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Religious Freedom in America

The Muslims hate our freedoms. That's the word from neoconservatives, and it's been enthusiastically swallowed by much of modern America. I mean, how can a people who riot over cartoons about Mohammed truly claim to respect freedom?

Well, now the shoe is on the other foot. No rioting or bombing, just a whole lot of censorship and pious demands for apologies from horribly offended Christians. It seems that Kathy Griffin stirred up the religious pot by stating in her Emmy acceptance speech, "A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now."

To demonstrate precisely how she felt she said backstage, "I hope I offended some people. I didn't want to win the Emmy for nothing."

Bill Donahue and other religious conservatives have denounced it and are demanding an apology. Naturally, they're not getting one. But they have successfully leaned on the folks at the Emmy Awards, so the offending remarks will not be aired when the show is aired on television.

So there's your lesson, folks. We have freedom to worship with the choices we're given. I mean, you can be Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and even a Scientologist if you want to be that wacky. But Muslim? Atheist? Clearly you're a threat to society.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Plot Twist That Wasn't

There are great moments in storytelling when the author dramatically reveals the plot twist that makes the story: when Darth Vader reveals that he is Luke's father, or when we discover that Bruce Willis has been a ghost through the entire movie. Sadly, Petraeus' revelation to Congress that the Surge is working Iraq isn't one of them. We knew what he was going to say almost word-for-word a long time ago.

Surprisingly, CNN actually reported more than just the White House Press Release.

"I hope, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, that you can persuade us that there is substantial reason to believe that Iraq will turn around in the very near future," [Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Missouri] said.

Did that sound like skepticism? I dearly hope so.

And referring to congressional critics of Petraeus' independence, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "I also resent the comments of those who sat comfortably in their air-conditioned offices thousands of miles away from the firefights and roadside bombs and tried their Washington best in recent days to impugn the general's good name."

This, of course, from a corporate-sponsored politician who sits comfortably in his air-conditioned office thousands of miles away from the firefights and roadside bombs he sent thousands of American troops to face.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, a vocal critic of the war in Iraq, has accused the White House of twisting data to suit its needs.

"By carefully manipulating the statistics, the Bush-Petraeus report will try to persuade us that violence in Iraq is decreasing and thus the surge is working," said the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, addressing a Washington think tank last week.

Durbin's criticism was echoed by David Walker, head of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, who also raised questions about how the statistics were compiled.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday, Walker said he is not comfortable with the methodology used to track the death toll driven by sectarian violence.

For instance, he said, a body found with a gunshot to the front of the head is classified as an ordinary crime, while a body with a gunshot to the back of the head is attributed to sectarian violence.

So at least somebody is calling the administration on its bullshit. Let's see if the rest of the Democrats grow a spine and show some genuine opposition.

The U.S. military data obtained by CNN indicates that 165 Iraqis were murdered in Baghdad last month, a slight increase from the previous two months. However, the number represents a significant decrease since the Baghdad security plan began earlier this year.

It is not clear how the U.S. military obtained the number, but CNN statistics -- compiled from numbers released by the Iraqi Interior Ministry -- suggest 428 Iraqis were murdered in Baghdad in August, their bodies dumped in the streets. In July, 612 Iraqis were murdered, according to the Interior Ministry.

A U.S. military chart indicates monthly casualties in Baghdad, which spiked in November at 2,200, dropped to 980 last month. The chart does not break the casualties down into deaths and injuries.

The military data focus only on Baghdad and do not address the increase in violence in other parts of the country since the Baghdad security plan kicked off in February.

I think that's a fairly significant caveat there at the end. The military data focus only on Baghdad and do not address the increase in violence in other parts of the country. They increased spending and troop numbers in order to try to secure Baghdad, reducing but not eliminating the violence in that area, but it increases elsewhere. Meanwhile, the locals think that all the Surge has done is made things worse, and more Iraqis than ever support attacks against coalition forces.

Heck of a job, Petty.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Petraeus Speaks

The Washington Post has published an article by William Branigin in which he reports the contents of a letter by Petraeus to the troops without any fact checking or analysis whatsoever. Apparently, this is called "journalism." Let's look at the highlights.
U.S. forces have achieved generally encouraging, though "uneven," results in an offensive aimed at shoring up security in Iraq, but Iraqi leaders have failed to make satisfactory progress on the political reconciliation the military effort was designed to facilitate, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq told his troops in a letter today.
Hmm...it seems that the surge is going well, but it's going to take some more time. Who could have ever predicted that? Of course, Patraeus won't be writing the report himself, it'll be written by the White House. Three guesses as to what it will say, and the first two don't count. But I digress.
Cautioning that "innumerable tasks remain and much hard work lies ahead," he offered a football analogy: "We are, in short, a long way from the goal line, but we do have the ball and we are driving down the field."
So we'll probably have to keep "surging" for at least another six to nine months. Just like they said six months ago. And six months before that. And six months before that. And six months before that. But this time they really mean it!
He said sectarian violence "continues to cause death and displacement in Baghdad and elsewhere," although at "considerably reduced levels" from eight months ago. He cited a decline in the number of attacks across Iraq in eight of the previous 11 weeks, saying they had dropped to a level in the last week of August not seen since June 2006.
For some reason, this claim doesn't seem to fit the facts. It probably stems from the new method for discerning the difference between insurgency and criminal killings: "If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian. If it went through the front, it's criminal." So, how do they count it if an insurgent was facing the person who shot them? That would make for a lot of criminal G.I.s.

That leads me to another question: how do they distinguish between civilian and insurgent kills? Or is everyone killed in an air raid an insurgent by default?
"However, the overall trajectory has been encouraging, especially when compared to the height of the sectarian violence in late 2006 and early 2007," he wrote.
Especially when you consider how many insurgents die while facing the person they're trying to kill. Of course, the number of troops that have died so far this year is higher than it was last year, leading to an overall count that's climbing toward 4,000 (for some reason we never hear about the number of soldiers wounded, just the ones who have died). I'm sure that's progress too, considering how many more troops we've put in the line of fire.
The general wrote in conclusion, "I will go before Congress conscious of the strain on our forces, the sacrifices that you and your families are making, the gains we have made in Iraq, the challenges that remain, and the importance of building on what we and our Iraqi counterparts have fought so hard to achieve."
So, in summary, the Surge is working but it needs more time to work. All of the things that haven't worked out are no fault of our own, so we need to stay longer to make them work. The strain of this action means they might authorize the withdrawal of one brigade, approximately 4,000 out of the 30,000 troops currently fighting for oil democracy in Iraq. That's mighty generous of him.

Tell me again why we aren't rioting in the streets?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Dangers of Religious Indoctrination

I'm always reading about people's justification for their belief in God and support of their religion, so I'm always inspired to come back to the topic. Most of these claims are based on cyclical logic. "There's no evidence to refute the Bible, so the Bible must be true." "The only way to earn God's salvation is to believe."

There’s no substance to these claims. Claiming the authority of a book that has been refuted as a source of authority doesn’t convince anyone. There’s as much evidence for the Flying Spaghetti Monster as there is of the God of the Israelites, and as much incentive to sit at his Noodly Appendage.

Religion demands faith — unquestioning belief — as opposed to reasoned consent. The Bible is the infallible Word of God not because it’s been tested empirically and found to be perfect, but because it says so right in its text. We know that God watches out for us and meddles in our daily lives not because we have verifiable proof, but because people we recognize as authority figures have told us so.

This is the trap of religion. It conditions us to accept authority without question. Ever wonder why there are so many scandals in the religious and political world? Ever wonder why so many people are lead astray through the guise of religion and religious principles? Because the people who use religion to further their aims know the weakness of the religious-minded: if you tell them what they want to hear, they’ll support you without question. And they’ll give you a truckload of money to do it. Of course, once the hypocrisy gets out they tend to go for blood, but inevitably they'll turn to yet another con artist promising them everything they want to hear.

Sure, people do wonderful things in the name of religion. People also do wonderful things in the name of secular principles. They do equally bad things for those very same reasons. Belief in God or membership in any religion does not guarantee any sort of moral behavior or enlightened understanding. We can create those things without religion. The only thing that religion does is give us membership in a social setting, and that’s far more comforting than any words from a long-dead priest.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Religion of the Free Market

There's a common theme pushed by Republicans and Libertarians alike: the notion that the Free Market (hallowed by thy name) will automatically correct itself when problems arise. If wages are too low, workers will switch jobs to companies that pay more. If a company puts out a bad product, engages in monopolistic tactics or uses environmentally unfriendly practices, companies with better standards will gain the advantage and edge out the offending business.

The problem, argue these Free Market proponents, is that the government intervenes before the market can correct itself. The government then imposes costly and impractical solutions rather than allowing the natural evolutionary process to complete. So we end up with businesses that lose money and productivity, showing more concern for appeasing the government than putting out good product.

It sounds very rational, doesn't it? Very compelling. The problem is that history doesn't support it. The world has had countless opportunities for pure market conditions to flourish, and in every instance it has created an environment that gave us the wisdom of caveat emptor: let the buyer beware.

"Not so!" cry the clerics of the Church of the Free Market. "There has never been a true free market! Government has always meddled!" Perhaps this is so. But how long do you allow an experiment in free market environments to continue before you declare it a failure and institute some controls? Is it akin to our Glorious Leader telling us Iraq will be a success in the next six months for four years in a row? Britain tried it, and was forced to institute controls. France and Germany tried it, and they had to impose government restrictions on business practices. Russia embraced capitalism as enthusiastically as anyone after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent abuses are practically the stuff of legend so they've been instituting government controls. China is the latest newcomer to the capitalist scene and our news is filled with all sorts of complaints about the life-threatening consequences of their corner-cutting practices, all hallmarks of a free market environment. Are we boycotting Chinese goods? Are Chinese businesses going to feel the heat and correct themselves? No, they're going to take their chances and push their profits until their government forces them to behave. That is what free markets do. They always have, and until human nature changes, they always will.

So Free Market religionists will complain about things like mandatory minimum wage increases and talk about individual responsibility. They'll predict doom and gloom for everyone because of minimum wage. But the evidence is against them; just ask Oregon how badly they're hurting because of minimum wage.