Posts Tagged ‘debt’

April 7, 2016

Ducks

Our Illusory Fears and My Case for Optimism

 

Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine is a huge book of 2016 pages plus an index of 78 pages and some additional ‘plates’ of illustrative photos.  (Which you wouldn’t want placed by your evening meal.)  A joke has it that a medical student fell asleep while reading this thing in bed and broke her nose.  And it would be a nasty thing, heavy as some chunk of earthen conglomerate, to break your nose on, as it is chockfull of infections, afflictions and diseases … many too awful to describe.   On late evenings, studying this huge work myself, I often wondered how it was I stayed alive?  Every sort of organism both large and infinitesimal is out there bent on doing us in, or at least sucking our vital energies and/or gumming up the works – assuming that our own genes and inherent lunacy doesn’t sink us.

Often, I’ve imagined how fortunate it is that I’ve managed to travel the miles and do the plethora of tasks I do every day – meeting with the unforeseen, the unpredictable, dealing with the marginally employed and the intensely volatile – and stay alive.

I still marvel that I’ve been able to stay out of jail, as virtually nobody – even lawyers – fully or often partly understand the reams of city, county, state and federal laws and regulations we labor under.  In Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvard lawyer Harvey Silverglate – “The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day.”  Imagine that.  Our over-reaching laws and regulations seem vast as an ocean and as hazardous nowadays as going to sea ever was.

It’s a wonder I’ve been able to maintain some standing in a society which doesn’t allow much margin for error.  Say the wrong thing, or even burp or laugh at the wrong time and you lose that sale, that career opportunity, that sexual opportunity, that social opportunity…  I remember an article in the Seattle Times some years ago which was advising single women on handling home repairs.  A general contractor advised that they could find a plentiful supply of cheap handyman labor, by utilizing those whose personalities had proved too volatile for steady employment.

I’ve wondered how the average person avoids bankruptcy.  Monthly bills and direct withdrawals attach themselves like leeches.  Insistent invitations to buy fill the media.  Credit card prospects flood the mail.  Contracts and guarantees are a minefield of fine print.  The wife and kids always maneuver for another purchase.  And when you go broke, as my brother advised me:  “You don’t just run out of money.  They gut you like a fish.”

I’ve wondered – in places beyond my grasp – how in the world the technology we depend upon doesn’t fail us?  Each day I fear the Y2K equivalent of cyber crime, or cyber terrorism, or a simple identity theft.  Or will some preteen hacker take control of my ‘smart’ car and run me into a tree?

As the years pass the devices we use pass beyond our ability to comprehend.  I no longer fiddle with the car.  My computer does things…  I can’t say what they are.  I can’t figure out the Apple TV buffering.  Even the remote baffles.  And the thermostat has become like Hal in 2001.  If you happen to stumble and brace your hand against it in the night on the way to pee, the Lord knows when your next heating cycle will occur.

I worry about how us average Joes will stay employed.   Statistically, we’re expected to retrain ourselves several times throughout our careers, while surviving to land that next job.  We’re expected to rope up through networking, maintaining contacts, and staying on top of our fields through continual re-schooling by controlling our mindset and maintaining a positive outlook.  What is going to happen to me when I get tired?!  (Author’s note: I’m tired.)

I’m puzzled how the average person raises ‘survives’ more than one child.  There is barely time to listen to all their demands!  They have activities, destinations.  They have medical, dental, and therapies.  They either want lots of your complete attention and right now – or they can’t hear you!  Their school work is a haystack of handouts, online links, and hop scotching through a textbook of printed and written assignments whose directions are far harder to understand than the assignment itself – and written as if for a fellow PhD in Educational Theory.  They don’t attend every school day, nor always for a full day, nor do they always begin or end consistently.  They need shots and permission forms and fees for anything detachable, plus lunch monies.  And lately a community activity has been added to the required electives, plus a dollop of “zero tolerance” up to and including felony time, for an ala carte of adolescent transgressions.  And, they’re up for anything their ‘in’ crowd peers might want to do, including jumping off a cliff, I would hazard.

How do we survive?

Well, in my optimism, I think of that weekend in my youth when my brother organized a trip down the Deschutes River in Western Oregon.   Being the youngest member of the entourage and in a straggler position, I got the small two person life raft with these cute little oars.  The river rushed past as I stood on the bank.  I had to use the outhouse twice before embarking.  But once I pushed off and gained river speed the travelling was quite pleasant.  There were emerging rocks and downed trees and whirlpools and rapids with tall standing waves.  There were lots of dangers to thwart by wiggling my two cute little oars.  And looking back, this looks a bit like the situation of our lives.

I did well enough until I drifted into a whirlpool and started sinking.  The raft filled.  I went down, down… until the river was just under my arms.  What a perspective.  Again, just about as our lives as I’ve described.   When, with a big whoosh! the inflatable sprung to the surface and further down the river we glided.

In retrospect we’re forced to say – in face of the evidence – that many of our fears and dangers are illusory.  Though it certainly doesn’t seem so.  But the evidence is – that we’re still here!

Which forms the wellspring of some real optimism.

And as long as we are alive, this evasion of all of these certain dangers keeps happening!  There is no doubt about any of this!  And surely this is the cause from some credible optimism.

Now I haven’t suffered the misfortunes of many, many people.  Disease, tragic death, terrible accidents, war, famine, poverty and strife have stayed their distance.  But even those for whom it hasn’t… as long as we are alive, it is hard not to make the case for optimism.  Our lifeboat is still working.

So let’s have a smile, people, and thank our Creator, or as the atheists would have it,  Mindless Happenstance.  After we’re dead, it might be easier to build that case for pessimism.

Or, we might just be dead.

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From the Editor’s Perch…

November 15, 2013

Editor’s Note:  Another installment about Failure:

How Much Should a Citizen Be Paid for His/Her Work?

How Much Should a Citizen Be Paid for His/Her Work?

Failure, Slavery and the Minimum Wage

 

            According to Scott Sandage’s book, Born Losers: A History of Failure in America, the great boom and bust cycles of America during the nineteenth century spawned the need for debt relief legislation.  For every business success to be had, many more failures were spawned.  If “the business of America is business,” as Calvin Coolidge would later say, then the debt-ridden failure was sidelined.  He had no future. 

            Various bankruptcy legislations were tried, and then discarded throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.  The widely held American ideal of a man being the maker of his destiny, reinforced the belief that the ‘truth lies in the man’, and that the roots of failure could be ascertained by a careful examination of the character of the man in question.  Debt relief flew directly in the face of this.  Debt relief would, it was felt by many, just nurture weakness and poor character in the American citizen.  On the other hand, a vast number of the bankrupts – though noting in retrospect many ways in which they might have acted more wisely – complained that the main reason they went bust was because they could not collect from others that which they were owed.  This all came to a head with the advent of the Civil War, when southerners stopped payments on obligations to northern businesses forcing a great number of northern businessmen into bankruptcy. 

            Along with the push for the abolition of slavery, came a parallel cry for bankruptcy legislation.  Their special interest group, The National Bankrupt Association, pushed for this legislation through their leading advocate in Congress, Thomas Jenckes.  Bankrupts complained that their “unpaid debts made them idle”, and “like true abolitionists , members of the association held that freedom was inalienable”.  The movement “seemed to understand that inalienable rights made sense only as a universal standard, not as a privilege of race”.  “To get back on one’s feet was to be emancipated.”  They argued that “When the Thirteenth Amendment brought legal freedom to the real slaves…  The government empowered itself to interfere with property, to redefine citizenship, and to protect individual rights – but not theirs.”  Their pronouncements were “a manifesto about the right to rise.”

            There were still difficulties to getting bankruptcy legislation passed however.  A key Congressman, Thaddeus Stevens clashed with Jenckes.   Stevens and his supporters could not “suffer rebel debtors to benefit from a bankruptcy bill” – which caused the Jenckes faction to complain that while Stephens was happy to free the slaves, he turned his back on the debt-slavery of his own constituents.   Finally, “on the last day of the Thirty-Ninth Congress, on a 2 March 1867, Congress approved both the Bankruptcy Act and the Reconstruction Act of 1867.”

 

            But the American ideal of “a right to rise” as an inalienable birthright continues to wage war with another American ideal of the right to property.   Currently, these questions complicate the current debate on the minimum wage laws.  Does a wage which is insufficient to live on amount to a defacto ‘slave wage’, which benefits the consumer, at the expense of the worker’s “right to rise”.   If “the business of America is business”, do insufficient wages keep capable citizens idle and ‘out of the game’?  Do insufficient wages constrict the citizens’ inalienable right to participate?  

            This is a discussion that continues, and probably will continue, for a long time.

Photo by Carl Nelson of a model

Murders in Progress by Eldon Cene

May 4, 2013
Phoning the Wife.

Phoning the Wife.

Long Distance Call

(Episode 45)

            Peter Barnett rang up Carmella with some trepidation, but with his game-voice on.  “Carmella!”

“Where the hell are you?”  Carmella replied.  She was just then placing a platter of biscuits and gravy on a customer’s table, and slammed it down so hard that the biscuits hopped, which made the customers heads hop.  (You had to be there.)

“Same place, honey.  Sorry it took so long.  I got caught in a tight spot and couldn’t call.  But all is right as rain now.  And I’m bringing home the bacon.”

“Sorry!”  Carmella said hushed, to the customers.  “I’m talking to the mayor.”

Her customers, nodded.  They were tourists, who wouldn’t know the mayor of Kimmel from the mayor of San Francisco or that he was Carmella’s husband.  But they knew the appellate ‘mayor’ and so were a bit impressed.

“I don’t know if I worry more when you sound stressed or when you sound relieved Peter,” Carmella said, hurrying out to find a spot of privacy.   “I just know that after 10 years of living with you, your high spirits don’t put me at ease.  What has happened?”  She hissed from behind the coats on the back coat rack.

“Just that my trip down here – though it has had its ups and its downs – has turned out a huge success!  I’m bringing back industry and jobs to our little corner of the woods, dear.  Kimmel’s mayor has come through!  You can start spreading the word.”

“¡Oh, no, no. Mi pequeña comadreja de un marido,” (Au contraire, my leetle weeezul of a huzbeend!), Carmella hissed.  “I am going to keep it well under my hat, until I hear the all of it, and I have you back here under my thumb where your story can be properly vetted, and sources checked and corroborated.”

“For goodness sakes, Carmella.  Should I bring my birth records?  Maybe a current photo ID?”

“You mean your hatch batch, you lizard.  What are you selling me?  And what have you been doing for two weeks?”

“I told you Carmella.  I’ve been handling some very tough negotiations.  But, handling them well, I’ll add, now that we’re through the worst of it.”

“The worst of it?  What else is there?”

“Nothing we can’t handle,” Peter assured her.

We?

“But why don’t we talk about the best of it, first?”

“I’m listening.”

“I’ve arranged with a syndicate of backers to finance the development of a huge recreational area right there in Kimmel.  We’re talking a construction budget in the millions.  Do you realize what this will do for our small community?”

“A ‘recreational area’?  You mean like horse rides and hiking and river rafting and camping and such?”

“Well, more like gambling and adult entertainment… and such.”

“Gambling and adult entertainment, in Kimmel?”

“Or just outside!  We’ll have to go over the possible locations.”

“What’s the bad news?”

“They gave me $120,000.  But we need $120,000 more.”

“$120,000.  They gave you $120,000?

“It’s earnest money.  Kind of like a ‘commission’, you know?  It’s my job to help marshal this whole thing through the governmental process, get all the proper licenses and certifications and zoning allotments and such.  I’ll be earning my money.”

“So why do you need $120,000 more?”

“Because I figured that is what it would take.”

“You figure doing all this is going to require $240,000?”

“Yes.”

“And how did you arrive at that number?  Right now the office of Mayor pays you around $5,000/year.  How come all of a sudden someone from Las Vegas wants to pay you $240,000?”

Peter had no quick answer for that.

“It seems to me that there are all sorts of little nowhere towns with little nominal nowhere mayors who could be had for a lot less than $240,000, – conflict of interest or not,” Carmella observed dryly.

“I resent that characterization, Carmella,” Peter replied.

“Well, I’m not trying to butter you up Peter.  So, answer my question.  Why, in the world, do these people want to pay you $240,000?”

“Well, it’s because they don’t actually have to pay me any of it.”

“Oh, and why’s that?”

“Well.  It’s because I already owe it, to them.”

“What?!  Peter, where in the world have you gotten $240,000 to owe anyone?”  Carmella was starting to feel a splitting headache coming on.

“Well, there’s where it’s been taking me the two weeks to get this all arranged.  And why I didn’t want to call, before it was all secured.”

“Yessssssss?  I’m listening,” Carmella said, and wishing she wasn’t.

“Okay.  This is how it went down.  But it was a good thing!  Eventually, this is going to be a good thing.”

“Peter, do you realize that we are about three minutes into this conversation and I feel like I am just now getting to whatever it is has happened that you are going to finally tell me?  And do you realize that this is how most every conversation we ever have is?  Because I have to keep digging and digging and questioning and questioning until I can finally get to what the heart of whatever it is you have to say actually is!”

Peter had been holding the phone away from his ear, so he hadn’t heard much of this.  But he felt he’d gotten the gist of it, enough, to reply with a little hurt in his voice.  “Carmella, when you get going like this, it’s no help to anyone.  Now just shut up and listen for a while.”

When Carmella didn’t reply, and Peter heard no ‘click’ of a disconnection, he continued.  “What happened is this.  After all those meetings with our sister city officials  I needed some time off, so I figured I’d just drive into Las Vegas and just look around.  All that glitter and stuff, you know.  You can literally see the place glowing in the distance.”

“You drove into Las Vegas,” Carmella sighed.

“Honey, lots of people do it, everyday.”

“Yeah, but they don’t have a drinking problem and a gambling habit.”

“It was just for a look around!”

“Okay.  So you drove in, looked around, and came back.”

“Well, no.”  Peter sighed.

“God damn it, Peter!  How much did you lose?”  Carmella felt she might crush the phone.  She massaged her forehead.

“Well, only $160,000 at first.”

“Only $160,000!  Peter where did you get that kind of money?  You didn’t   sell our restaurant did you?  I don’t see how you could have done that without my knowing.”

“No. No!  Nothing like that.  I would never do that, honey.   I just borrowed some of the city’s money.”

“You stole money from the town?!”

“I borrowed, borrowed!”

“Then pay it back, back!  Right now!”

“I am.  I have!  At least half of it, anyway.”

“Wait a minute.  You lost $160,000, but you owe $240,000.  What’s with the other $80,000?”  Carmella kept rubbing her forehead, but more vigorously.

“Well, here’s the thing.  I figured I’d lost the $160,000 because I’d made the mistake of gambling while I was drinking.  I mean, who could lose that much sober?  I went down to breakfast the next day and couldn’t even remember the night before.  I mean, I had to walk to the window to check my winnings, before  finding out.”

“Peter.  How could you start drinking?  Again?  And in Las Vegas, of all places?”

“I know.  I know.  Not smart.”

“Not smart?  Honey, what you have done is so far from ‘smart’, why, I can’t even figure out where it is.  You asshole!”

“Look, Carmella.  There’s no need to take that harsh tone with me.  Drinking is a disease.  Why, if I were dying of smallpox or something, would you be standing there calling me an “asshole”?”  Peter replied, feeling hurt and a little self-righteous.  “No!  You’d be calling a doctor.”

“No, Peter.  I think I’d watch you die, and be enjoying every minute of it.”  Carmella hissed from behind the coats, watching the Sheriff suddenly walk in.

Silence.

“I know you don’t mean that Carmella.  So I’m just going to continue as if nothing had been said, as if you hadn’t shared that.”  Peter sighed.

More silence.

“So, I figured,” Peter struck back up, upbeat.  “That sober, I could easily win it all back.  So, I went back at it with a vengeance.  I mean, I really worked hard, using all of the skills I’ve acquired, and playing it tight, playing it right.  But.  Lady Luck just wasn’t with me.  And you know, when Lady Luck frowns, well, there’s nothing you can do.  So I ended up $240,000 down.”

“Why $240,000?”  Carmella wondered, fatalistically.

“That’s when the town ran out of money.”  Peter shook his head.

“Oh,” Carmella replied, wrung out.

“But it’s a good thing! Carmella.  Because this is where I was able to turn things around, you see, because without that debt hanging over my head, I would never have been able to entice these savvy, shrewd business peopled down here into investing in our small town way out in the middle of nowhere.  But as it worked out, it’s as if I played them.  Which, I guess I have!  They are going to plunge millions into our little town, because they figure it costs them nothing!  And all it took on our parts was to lose $240,000.  Which, I might add, we plan to pay all back!”

Carmella didn’t know what to say.  She was dead tired from working in the restaurant 24/7, from listening to the crazy fantasies of a crazy husband, and now what could be impending incarceration for embezzlement – plus, just to add another dollop of bad luck to it, possible involvement with shady gambling figures, probably mob-connected.  She looked forward into her future and saw a shallow unmarked grave somewhere deep in the woods off a logging road, and her buried in a waitress smock or something.  Maybe she’d go serve the Sheriff some free coffee.  Yes.  That’s what she’d do.  She hung up.

“Leadership isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always carried out along the direct path,” Peter was touting himself into the dead phone.  “But the victory is there to be had, and the achievement to be realized for the ones who have the cajones to reach for the ring, and stay the course through those tough times of adversity, Carmella.  And let me tell you, I’m appreciative of your loyalty.  And someday, you’ll be able to take that to the bank.”

Photo by Carl Nelson of professional model

Seattle Celebrity News!

August 3, 2012

FLASH!  Odd Duck Dodges the Soup!!!

“Good things CAN happen.”

“Eclectic Theater Company is now caught up on the rent of Odd Duck Studio! :)”  Rik Deskin posted yesterday on Facebook.  To the landslide of congratulatory comments that were posted, Rik said: “All I did is receive the check. Kudos go out to the person who made it happen. :)”  The editor could only add to this: “Cudos from The Seattle Celebrity News!  too.”

Photo by Carl Nelson of professional actor.


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