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Archive for November, 2011

Back To Normal, But Not in Oklahoma

with 13 comments

So, here’s how it looks–we seem to have gone back to real life just in time for what the British would call a bank holiday.  Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day, which means no mail and no banks. 

This will not be a holiday for me.  Partly that’s because I don’t take them.  I like to write, and right now I’m sort of writing frantically.  Maybe fiction is my drug, because I think that week of not being able to put me into a kind of withdrawal.

Part of it is because school isn’t taking the day off.  It’s “observing” the holiday on Tuesday the 15th instead.   This is a little difficult to understand.  My place is not only not anti-military, but is positively military friendly. 

Part of it is surely that very few of us teach on Friday, so taking Friday off is like taking nothing off for most of the teachers.  But then, why not take off Monday, when practically everybody is teaching? 

Never mind.  This is the kind of thing that occupies my mind when I’m tired.   And I am, at the moment, fairly tired.  It’s exhausting to have nothing to do.

So, still in disorganized mode, a few notes for the day:

1) As to laws that have to be passed because some people have no common sense–I’d say that describes, exactly, what laws I think should NOT be passed. 

And it’s not just that grown ups should be allowed to take their own risks, which I think is true enough.

It’s also that one person’s idea of what’s “common sense” is another person’s idea of sheer idiocy.  I know a lot of people who ride motorcycles.  Most of them think helmet laws are not only not “common sense,” but put them in active danger–they may or may not be more likely to survive an accident while wearing a helmet, but they’re definitely in more danger of getting into an accident in the first place, as the helmet plays hell with peripheral vision.

I have no idea who”s right or wrong on this issue.  The last time I rode a motorcycle I was 25, and I rode in back while the man I was dating did the actual driving.

But I do know that this is just the kind of law that makes me both crazy and angry–it is government treating its citizens not as citizens, but as children, or patients, who have to be disciplined “for their own good.”

I’d support a Constitutional amendment that would bar the government from ever passing laws for such a reason, and I’d change the laws having to do with children so that government was no longer allowed to judge or interfere with anybody’s “parenting skills.”

In cases of assault or clear physical neglect (not feeding the kid till he starves would be a case; homeschooling would not be one), I’d use the crimninal justice system and give the accused parents full due process rights, including the presumption of innocense.

And that brings me to

2) I’m with Cheryl and Robert.  I don’t think “compassion” means supporting some government program or other.  Compassion can only be an individual trait, and it can only be practiced on an individual basis. 

That doesn’t mean that there should be no institutional provision for the people who are truly unable to take care of themselves.  And I’m pretty sure I’ve been vocal on this blog in support of a vastly expanded version of the Earned Income Tax Credit for people who do for themselves but don’t have the intellectual ability to do much better than the minimum.

But I know for a fact that what “compassion” is NOT is supporting programs that look as if they’re doing more harm than good.

And the program described in that essay by the last psychologist (I wish somebody would tell me if it’s psychologist or psychiatrist) is a system that is postively malevolent.

A system set up to bribe people into redefining themselves as “sick” is not an act of compassion, and it is not helping anybody.

Every single person who takes that bait is worse off in the long run than he would be if he was left to starve in the street. 

There is more to being human than eating, breathing, copulating and defecating.  A person who is entrapped–and there’s a lot of entrapment in these programs as described in that article–into lying, cheating and faking to get mere subsistence has not been helped–he’s been destroyed. 

So I’ll repeat–if that’s really what we’re doing, we should stop.  We’re not helping anybody with that.

My EITC approach would at least treat people as actual people, and not as children or patients. 

And that has to be a step in the right direction.

3) I forgot mm’s thing about the mythical liberal university.

And I don’t doubt Cathy is right that she doesn’t deal with universities like the ones we were describing.  I don’t either, these days.

But that such exist is not in question, and you don’t have to take my word for it.

Go here

http://thefire.org/

That’s the website for The FIRE–The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

They were founded as a sort of ACLU for college students forced into some truly bizarre and Orwellian nightmares by campus speech codes, brainwashing-technique “orientations” and other administrative depredations of the modern upscale university.

The latest upset has to do with Department of Education regulations–issued by unelected bureaucrats, don’t forget; I want to get rid of that for a reason–

Anyway, by regulations that say colleges and universities must, when dealing with allegations of rape on campus, apply a “preponderance of the evidence” standard in determining guilt, and not the usual “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

Why is that?

Well, one university official explained, the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard gives “too many rights to the accused.”

Right, exactly.

For what it’s worth, ROTC returned to Harvard just this year, and you can’t major in business in the Ivy League.

Yes, they’ve got business schools, but those are graduate schools.  You want a BA from the Ivies or the Seven Sisters or the Little Three, business is not a major on offer.

And then:

4) I have been reading things.  Lately, what I’ve been doing is rereading Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers for the first time in close to thirty years.  And on that I’ve got one thing to say.

This is not only my favorite Dorothy L. Sayers novel, it’s the favorite Dorothy L. Sayers novel of just about anybody I’ve ever met who reads Sayers.

That’s good, as far as I’m concerned, but I’d like to point out one thing:

This is a mainstream novel, not a genre one. 

Not only does it barely qualify as a detective novel on any level, what detective elements it contains are largely ignored while the plot concentrates on character and character relations. 

I’m having a very good time with this thing, and it’s a very good book.  And I’m hardly the person to complain about calling something a detective story because you can get it into print, while actually writing a different kind of novel altogether.

But, you know, I just thought I’d mention it.

I have to go give an exam to students who probably ought to be shipped off to day jobs for a few years until they grow up enough to know if they actually want to be in school.

Written by janeh

November 10th, 2011 at 9:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Trees

with 8 comments

The problem, I think, is that I can’t really get myself into the mood to do anything serious.  Even real work didn’t get very far today. 

For one thing, as soon as it gets light out, I can see out the windows of my office–which is really a kind of sun room–into my back yard.  That’s usually a good thing.  I’m not one of those writers who has to face a blank wall in order not to be distracted from writing things.  I write very naturally.

At the moment, however, what I see when I look out back is a lot of pieces of trees all over the  yard.  The storm was hell on trees.  For a while, I thought that the big one had come down on the house, but it hadn’t exactly.  It had just been bowed down under the weight of the snow, and when the snow melted it went back up again. 

One other piece of that same tree did fall down on the roof, but so far I haven’t been able to find any damage, and it was only a branch.  But lots of pieces of that tree have gone everywhere, and one smaller bush-like thing actually split in half. 

So I spend a lot of time sitting here going, “hmmm, I wonder how long it’s going to take to clean that up.”

Part of it is that, as I said yesterday, I’m just exhausted.  I met all my classes and did all the things I was obligated to do right through that endless outage.  And that is, of course, exactly what I should have done.  But–sheesh.

So let me weigh in on a couple of things that went on here while I was in the blackout, and see where they go.  I’ll try to get back to the Liberal Arts tradition on the week-end.

1) I think it’s interesting that Cathy F and I had such different reactions to that article by the “last psychologist.”  Or psychiatrist.  I can’t remember.

My first reaction on reading that thing was to go:  well, if that’s what’s going on, we’d better put a stop to it right this minute.

And if what we get is rioting in the streets and a lot more crime, then we arrest people and put them in jail.

But I don’t see how it can ever be a good idea to encourage an entire subclass of people that the world owes them a living, and that if they don’t get it their proper response is to take violent revenge in one way or the other.

That’s a kind of blackmail I’m not willing to put up with, although I am willing to let my tax money go to people who are genuinely unable to fend for themselves.

Some of the problem might be alleviated by requiring people with the vaguer sort of psyochological diagnoses to be committed to psychiatric facilities, or group homes, in order to get benefits.  I think it would put an end to people falsely making those particular claims.

But I do know that in a world where psychological “disorders” and “disabilities” are invented on almost a daily basis, the system as the last psychologist describes it is not sustainable on a long term basis.

It’s not all that sustainable in the short term.

2) As to Elf’s question about what the difference is between someone on welfare and a trust fund baby–it’s not the difference between the recipients that matters.

If I set my children up with trust funds, I may ruin their characters, or not–but I do nothing at all to my fellow citizens. 

It’s not just that I don’t take their money against their will.  It’s that providing welfare from government departments fundamentally changes the relationship between a government and its citizens in ways that are very disturbing.

It’s not just that such a system requires not just that we give people money, but that we hire and maintain armies of administrators, case workers, and other personnel. 

And in establishing this system we tend to–we have–subtly shift the boundaries of what is allowable government interference into private life. 

We get “social policy”–why, exactly, is the government allowed to have any such thing as “social policy”? 

What starts with “some people are just not capable of coping on their own” becomes “we have the right to police your behavior and decide whether you’re competent to run your own life or not.”

And then we get not just the war on drugs or compaigns against obesity and smoking, but Hillary’s infamous suggestion that every parent who takes home a newborn should be visited several times by social workers to make sure there’s no abuse or neglect going on in the home.

I think there are ways in which we could avoid this–but one of those ways is not to start with the assumption that a significant proportion of our population is incapable of taking care of itself, or of learning anything useful, and instead must be accommodated or attended to by a theoretically benevolent state.

The fundamental assumption of the American revolution was, after all, just the opposite:  that ordinary citizens are fully capable of running their own lives and running their own government.

3)  As for the thing about how automation, etc, is steadily climbing the skills pole and there will soon be just a little group of people at the very top who “own everything” and have all the jobs while the rest of us have nothing–

The thing that bothers me about that argument is that it assumes that people stand still. 

It assumes that what we see today is all we will ever see, that what amounts to a job today is what will be a job tomorrow if it isn’t just eliminated, that we will never invent new things, new industries, new ways of living.

And I suppose it’s possible that American society is so culturally exhausted that that is indeed what will happen, but I don’t see it.  People living in 1911 couldn’t imagine most of the things we make money working at today.  I expect that we cannot imagine most of the things people will make their livings at in 2111.

I will point out a couple of things here.

First, innovation tends to take place in areas that are not yet regulated. 

Or not yet very regulated.

The problem here is entry costs:  how much money and how many resources does it take for you to get into the business?

It would be virtually impossible for somebody to start a car manufacturing company in the US today unless they already had significant resources.  They could not do what the early car manufacturers did and start building machines in their back yards and work up from there. 

This is not to say that there should be no regulations, only to point out the obvious:  the more expensive it is for new people to start up, the less innovation there will be.

And the less competition there will be.

And the more the regulatory system will be coopted by existing large firms as a method of fending off competition. 

So I’d say you can’t look to any large existing industry to tell you what’s going to come next. 

Second, we might want to reconsider the last century’s worth of local regulations that prevent people from making a living outside the formal system of “employment.”

And, for that matter, some of the federal ones.

We talk a lot of bilge in this country about “the immigrant experience,” but we don’t like to get into particulars.

My Greek grandparents, arriving on these shores, probably couldn’t get “a job.”  There were often no jobs to be had, and when there were, lots of employers wanted only “real Americans.”

So what did the immigrants do? 

They got themselves pushcarts and sold everything from household goods to shoes and clothing, they did a hundred other things on their own to get by.

And most of their descendants are now at least middle class.

Some of them are George Stephanopolous.

If you want to operate a pushcart these days, you need a license, after which you will be given a deisgnated place on the street.  You need health inspections if you’re selling food, and you’re forbidden altogether from selling certain kinds of products.  Then you’ve got (in NYC) city, state and federal income taxes, plusy social security taxes (you’re self employed, so you’re paying both halves on your own), and a host of other legal requirements that will force you to hire legal and accounting help.

In other words, if you want to operate a pushcart these days–you can’t.  There are still pushcarts in NY, but they’re owned by corporations that have the resources to pay for all that legal and accounting help.  They guys who run them have “a job.’

Well, that is, as long as the pushcarts are operating legally.  There are plenty of independent operators out there operating illegally, and not just with pushcarts.  It’s virtually impossible to find household help in Manhattan these days unless you’re willing to pay in cash, because most of the housecleaners are working off the books.

The simple fact is that they don’t make enough money to pay all the taxes and the registrations and the licenses.  They can no longer legally make a living in the way their grandmothers could.

We might try to fix some of that.

And don’t tell me that all those regulations were put in place to protect the health and safety of consumers.

They were put in place at the urging of the owners of brick and mortar stores who didn’t want the “unfair competition” (meaning any competition at all) from all those nonAmericans willing to work for less and sell for less.

Finally,  I’d like to point out what nobody else seems to.

Everybody making the jobs argument points back to the Fifties and Sixties and says–see?  Prosperity!  That’s when we had lots of regulations and higher taxes on the rich!

But what we actually had in the Fifties and Sixties was a completely anomalous situation. 

For most of that period, we were the only game in town.  WWII had decimated the industrial capacities of Europe and Japan both.

We could have run this country by ouija board and still done very well. 

But there was never a chance in hell that that was going to last.

What’s happened to American incomes and American jobs is not the result of Republican policies or Democratic policies.

It’s the result of a world that got competitive again.

I’m going to go do something.

Written by janeh

November 8th, 2011 at 9:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized

So, Here’s What Happened

with 5 comments

It’s Monday, November 7th, and I can say with some certainty that although I spent most of the last week sleeping–because there was virtually nothing else to do–I am completely exhausted.

For those of you who have not been following the news, or don’t know I live in Connecticut, we had a freak snow storm last week, eight inches of the stuff on October 29th.

The snow started in the late morning and fell hard and fast all day, but possibly not as hard as I thought it did. I do live in New England.  We get many absolute beauts of the things, often a couple of feet or so on and off throughout January, February and early March.

But we only got eight inches, and those eight inches somehow managed to leave almost a million people without power across the state of Connecticut.

That was on Saturday, October 29th.  My power went out at 7:19 pm.

On Tuesday, we threw out every single thing in our refrigerator.  On Wednesday, we threw out everything in both our freezers. 

My power came back on on Saturday, November 5th at 10:59 pm.

Tthat’s eight days and more than three and a half hours without light, heat, computer, hot water, or landline–and the cell phones screwed up for three days.

And, as I type this, there are still “thousands” of people without power in the state. 

I write “thousands” like that, in quotes, because I can’t seem to find a place where CL&P, the utility involved, is actually admitting to a hard number this morning. 

This may have something to do with the fact that the company spent the last week insisting that it would have 99% of its electricity-deprived customers back up and running by midnight last night night, only to hit yesterday morning with a press conference saying that, well, okay, maybe…Wednesday.

There are school districts in this state that have been closed for a week already and that did not open again today. 

There are situations in some towns that are downright frightening.  In Vernon, at least as of yesterday afternoon, there was a neighborhood that had not only been without power for more than a week, but that was impassible to anybody, including emergency vehicles.  Downed wires were stretched across the road and still live, so that it wasn’t safe to step over them or to drive vehicles over them.

All attempts to shut the electricity off altogether seemed to have failed, and there was an elderly woman who needed daily oxygen and hadn’t been able to get it.

Several of the smaller water systems have been contaminated, so that you have people living in houses without electricity who have been told to boil their water, and who can’t.

I do, now, have power–obviously, since I’m writing this–but I also have some observations:

1) This was an eight inch snowstorm.  Eight inches. That’s nothing up here in the winter.  As I said above, we routinely get a foot or more every week in the winter. 

And granted, this was unusual not only because of the time of year, but because there were leaves on the trees and that caused a lot of tree damage.

But still.  If CL&P can’t get the power back up for over a week on eight inches, what’s going to happen the first week of March, when we usually get our big nor’easter, with two feet and more? 

2) There was a time when people who were hired to be corporate public relations people had to know something about public relations.   That time seems to have passed.

Toyota and BP were bad enough, but watching CL&P’s public relations performance over the past week has been stunning.

There was, first, the constant assurances, starting the Sunday morning after the great Saturday blackout, that the company was “assessing the damage” and would have power restored no later than midnight on November 6th.

The “assessing the damage” thing sounded a lot like “we haven’t actually done anything yet, and you might as well not get your hopes up about getting power back soon, because we haven’t even started.”

This was, by the way, pretty much what was happening, so that actual operations on the ground didn’t even begin until sometime Monday. 

Never mind the fact that the projection was, in fact, insane. 

And the time it’s actually taking is even more insane.

3) As the days went by, the state government and everybody else began to get thoroughly angry, and they seem to have had a right to.

The story presently circulating in the local press is that CL&P was unable to get outside contractor crews to come in and help with the mess because it had either failed to pay many of those outside crews after they came in to help after Hurricane Irene.

Did I mention that?  There was a hurricane here–well, it was only a Tropical Storm by the time it hit the Long Island Sound, but it started as a hurricane–less than three months ago.

Some of the people now going without power for a week and a half, the ones that aren’t likely to be back up before Wednesday, also went without power for a week and a half during that.  My friends Carol and Richard lost power during Irene for eleven days, and they weren’t in the worst hit part of the state.

4) Part two of corporate PR incompetence was the constant announcement that clearing roads and downed wires was the first priority, followed by getting power back to businesses, government buildings and schools, so that residents could “access essential services.”

I have no idea who thought this would be received as good news, and the company behaving well. 

The fact was that the days during the past week have been rather nice, with temperatures in the high 50s and 60s.  The nights, on the other hand, have been brutal, the worst of them going down into the 20s.

So, with businesses up and running, what happened was that we all went to work during the nice part of the day when we could have survived pretty well without heat anyway, and then went home to cower under blankets and quilts until we could leave again in the morning.

Then there was the claim, made by company spokespeople, that the utility could not be blamed because it had no idea there would be so much snow.  You had to blame the local weather people, who hadn’t predicted it.

Not only was that lame, it was a lie–the weather people had actually been predicting more snow, and predicting it for a week.  I know.  I’m the original news junkie. 

All CL&P got for that piece of nonsense was constantly replayed clips of weather men across the local stations predicting twelve inches, fourteen inches, you name it. 

5) Half the hotels were also without power. The other half were booked up within hours, and generators were sold out across the state by Tuesday morning. 

At least one college in the Hartford area closed its doors and sent all its dorming students home for the duration.  As far as I know, they’re not up yet. 

6) Several groups of people have filed lawsuits against CL&P, and the state attorney general’s office has launched an investigation, as have the regulatory agencies. 

One of the people filing the lawsuit pointed out that he really had no other choice.  CL&P is a public utility and therefore a monopoly.  He couldn’t take his business elsewhere. 

Quite a few other people agree with my younger son, who wants something to happen that will personally affect people like Jeffrey Butler, CL&P’s COO, rather than the usual thing, which is just fining the company.

It’s a similar demand to the one made by both the Tea Party and OWS about the men at the head of the big banks and brokerage firms who got bailed out after the 2008 crash.

And it’s a policy proposal that has a lot of merit.  I had the same thought after Enron collapsed. 

You have, at this point, at least in certain segments of society, a culture of money.  In some of those segments–sports, say, or entertainment–irresponsibility just causes personal trouble and leaves the rest of us mostly alone.  In others–banks, and utilities, and like that–irresponsibility direly affects the rest of us.

For that segment, I say we change the laws so that if they blow things up, they lose, personally, their money.  If money is what they care about, then let’s go after that.

7) In spite of all this mess, many local municipalities are holding their elections tomorrow.  In pursuit of this, the roads are strewn with signs advocating for one political party or another.

One of these signs occurs at a major intersection I have to pass through on my way to and from school.  I get it right in front of me on the way home.  It’s a big, green thing with giant letters in white, and what it says is:  HAD ENOUGH YET?

It was–oh, I don’t know.  Perfect.  I hope the Indpendent Party wins a few seats on the strength of its having a prescient message for the times it is living through.

8) This is the longest period of time I’ve gone without writing since I was a teenager.  I’ve hated it.  I write even when I’m sick.

I’m glad to be back to it.

9) But first, I need to go out and replace $782.40 of food, medical supplies that aren’t safe if they’ve been too cold, and various and other sundries destroyed not by the storm, but by being without power for more than eight days.

I have a friend who says she’s getting all her receipts together and taking the money she’s out of pocket off her next few electric bills, but I know it won’t work.

That’s just going to make them shut off her power again.

Written by janeh

November 7th, 2011 at 10:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Live from Donner Pass

with 3 comments

[Posted by a Third Party per Request]
Jane is still without power. Current promise from the power company is Midnight Sunday, so expect no post prior to that, if then.

Written by janeh

November 2nd, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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