Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Zombie Domination

I'm taking a short break from crime and cities, life repair, and other more important matters here. Now that I've had a nap and a dinner, it seems funny. However, I am afraid I retreated screaming today from the Zombie-held basement.

Photo from sweetskulls.blogspot.com
The Summit of Multi-Million-Dollar Brain Trust
1. I may have told you (repeatedly) that we have been working on hot water systems in our condominium. Today, in order to finish "balancing the water supply" we had a summit meeting of the consultant engineer, the boiler inspector we pay, the foreman of the project, and Zombies. The balancing means that water in the front of the building will approximate the same temperature as the back of the building, thereby ensuring that half our residents get hot showers again and the other half don't boil in their bathrooms. I mean, it's not nearly that bad, but still, calibration is essential.

a. The meeting was for either 9:30 or 10:30. Different ambassadors were told different times.
b. Zombie Assistant didn't know about it. Except I told her, but that's not official since Zombie Boss didn't inform her. If I tell her, it doesn't count and she forgets. I told her yesterday AND last week.

c. The Zombie Maintenance #2 is on unauthorized vacation. That is, Zombie Boss gave him off, but he doesn't have any vacation left. Apparently this will be paid. As Treasurer, I know we are already significantly over on payroll this year.
d. Zombie Maintenance #1 had a doctor's appointment and didn't show up until 10 a.m. He showed up holding a bottle of PowerDrink and an open bowl of browned hamburger crumbles. Don't ask me why. At first I thought it was dog food.

I wonder what he did with it at the doctor's office. Best not to ask, though.

e. Contractors were roaming the building at 9:30 with nothing to do. I finally found one of them. He was in the trash room (which has a bathroom) preparing to use the facilities. In the meantime, mosquitoes were flying everywhere in the trash room, I don't know why. The contractor understandably wanted me gone, and I wanted to leave. So he enjoyed the amenities of the Trash Room rather than brave Zombie Assistant's non-buggy facilities.

g. I had to tell Zombie Assistant to make coffee. I went up to the Lobby to greet erstwhile contractors. Desk Staff knew nothing about the appointment or what to do about it. In the meantime, I directed Zombie Assistant to call another Board Member who works from home, and is interested in the hot water systems, in the odd hopes that someone competent might represent the Condominium. Fortunately, he was up for the challenge.

h. Zombie Maintenance # 1 started the meeting in an unknown spot, which meant the consulting engineer, who was told a 10:30 meeting time, was nowhere around when the meeting started. He couldn't find anyone. The look on his face was one of angry resignation, which I could not acknowledge publicly.

i. The coffee was terrible.

j. Zombie Boss showed up at 10:55.

Robbing Peter to Pay Peter, Or, Something Like That
2. Okay, now back to why I was down there. Treasurer stuff. We are going through accounts where the Owner owns more than one unit, looking for mixed-up billing and incomplete ledgers. Yesterday I ran into a doozy, first set out of the box. It took all day just to start it and today I looked for back-up material. As usual, nothing is consistent and is filed in five different places, has three different invoicing systems, and may or may not be packed away. Zombie Assistant is going to start another notebook, so she will be organized. As far as I am concerned, there are too many notebooks already.

Hollywood Car Stunts, Right Here, Right Now!
3. The contractor who is ventilating our garage came in to say that somebody didn't move their car as requested, and when they blew through the bricks, it would be damaged. Zombie Assistant shrugged, so I got up and checked the parking spot. When I came back to ask who owned space 16-B, she said, "we called her yesterday. She lives in 2309." Upon checking--No, she lives in 2307, so I'm not sure we called her or not. The Z.A. called again and left a message for her to leave work and come move her car, sure thing. Nobody attempted to check her apartment--to see if she was home?--so I went up and clanged on the door. Just Lazy.

Let the Screaming Begin
That was about all I could stand. I gathered my file folders and left the perimeter. In two days I have not finished three accounts by one owner. Holy Shit. But I may have all the pieces now. I am working on it now.

When I went downstairs that afternoon for additional materials, I learned we will need to pay additional megabucks to complete the hot water balancing project. The Board Member who officiated at the hot water project is exceedingly upset about the tardiness of Zombie Boss. I can assure you that though I was the vanguard on calling out this upsetting state of Zombie Affairs, I am not alone any more.

Introduciing Sudhir Venkatesh: The Ghetto Economy

Sudhir Venkatesh is the graduate student from the University of Chicago that made Steven Levitt's and Stephen Dubner's first Freakonomics book so interesting--he is the one who brought in the great gang information and even the gang accounting for Levitt to peruse (as he says himself) at leisure.

He is not strictly an economist, so his vision of social activity is quite different. Nevertheless, he has studied economic phenomena (such as drug accounting and unofficial business) within the inner city. His work is genuine field work of the old style. In short, he lived it first, developing long-term relationships, which gained him more access and longer times to formulate and test his theories. His work is therefore a little more personalized than Levitt's. It is also terribly important because is not a hit-and-run intellectual exercise. It is the long way around getting a graduate degree, and at some risk to his health, indeed.

I was lucky to find that C-Span spent an hour with Mr. Venkatesh in its "Q and A" program. The following video is 58 minutes long. It was spurred by his most popular book, Gang Leader for a Day, but introduces his work in general. All of the video I am finding with Professor Ventakesh (now at Columbia) seems to be an hour long, which is not optimal for blog readers, I know. So the transcript of the talk is here. And since Professor Venkatesh took the long way around his sociology degree, we have a lot of personal witness to life in the Robert Taylor homes in Chicago--including some mistakes he made as well as the mother lode of information. He spent seven years at it.

He discovered an entirely different kind of government in the inner city. An entirely different economy. And in Gang Leader for a Day, he was able to access the workings of what I would call America's fastest-growing conglomerate--the crime conglomerate.

In my studies of gangs and gang economics, I have run into two remarkable men who have accessed the ghetto in a long-standing relationship AND studied it with academic rigor. Mr. Venkatesh is one. He is, further, an ambitious scholar. Without his interest, commitment and compassion, we would never get a glimpse of what we see here. 

So I think it's very important to view his work as a series of large clues and insights. The raw material may lead, certainly, to any solution he suggests, or any emotion he invokes. It may also lead to other conclusions of your own. But very rarely do we get to access someone with such an involved history of the details, as well as economic and social studies background, to translate for us. It's strong work. 

Mr. Venkatesh has his own Web site.
Books by Mr. Venkatesh:
Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Ventakesh. Available, and featured above.
Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor. Available.
American Project: The Rise and Fall of the Urban Ghetto. Available.

There are also several documentaries noted at his Web site. Not all of them are about economics or gangs, but a good many of them are indeed on this very important part of urban life.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Condo Boarding

Surfing the Waves with the Zombies.

Zombie Boss is out Monday and most of Tuesday. So Zombie Assistant and I are going to get rid of a pile of work that between the three of us has fallen through the cracks. I can't wait until this all gets underway.

Now that my closet is clean (and I don't think I'll have to mention it as a Big Project ever again, and therefore never again), the biggest pile around in Condo Stuff.

Well, the Board said they wanted a Condo Library. So besides the work I do down in the basement over the next two days, I will be culling the old meetings, contracts, and other stuff to make a condo-board-only space for financial documents, hot-button issues, and the like.

This also takes time. However, it will clean off my dining table, so do you think I am complaining? We had our meeting last week, and when I came home all I could see was that the pile was one binder larger than before.

Tomorrow I get to measure it and order the shelves and small reading platform that will be in this tiny room. I will make keys for all the Board Members. Good-bye, freaking Charlie, to the audits, the reserve studies, and the financials.

Look! They're all headed in the Same Direction! That might be good or bad . . . but something will get resolved, for sure!

Tomorrow I have some new things for Crime and Economics. And I'm getting caught up on blogs, too! I have missed you all terribly.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Roses, the End of Summer

I suppose you could see this as sad. But what I see, is that when the roses are gone, they leave behind a star shape. So I think this is a pretty thing.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Living Proof

Well, you might remember I had an appointment to go through the twisted four years of estate planning, taxes, and medical emergencies--the paper relics that I couldn't quite deal with. Two and a half hours, four boxes, one grocery bag later . . . . Dan and I had made four and 3/4 boxes for the trash, plus half of a trash can.

Before that, I had the closet mostly worked out. I cleaned the small closet, too. I cleared on my desk and my chairs, other parts of the house as necessary to reorganize how this was going to work.

I need two boxes, one small, one medium, both for memorabilia. That will be fun. I'm basically done.

I found more letters. Dan found them, actually. He said, "Did you donate books to the library?"
I had to think about it. I said, "Yeah, the Resident's lounge, I took them my husband's professional books. They didn't have any."

There were a couple of other thank-you letters.

He said, "You did all the right things. You don't need these any more." He threw the letters away.

Two hours later, I got nervous and went down to the trash room to find them. I couldn't. I am just going to have to trust that I will remember. I did the right things. And when I had the proof, I couldn't find it anyway. Had I found it, it would have meant nothing to anyone except me.

The meaning has to be inside. Living proof.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Orleans PD Conspiracy

What I know about the way New Orleans acted during the flood came straight from the horrifying coverage during the event. So much blame flew around. The whole thing was embarrassing to the United States, the state of Louisiana, and to the City of New Orleans. But while everyone had a tale to tell, they never added up. And maybe they shouldn't. It was a disaster.

Near the River is higher ground. Lakefront and New Orleans East are lower.
N.O. East had no levee protection, but plenty of development.

Geography is Fate
New Orleans is a city surrounded by water. Land is at a premium. This is not something you readily understand if you are from Texas or Nebraska. There is not More, there is only Less. There is high ground and low ground. Every inch of elevation makes a huge difference.

New Orleans is a city where a car is necessary. Public transportation has always been unreliable for those going to work. But it has never been a city that really made room for car transportation. City streets are mostly two lane. They flood. They have cars parked on either side, and that makes a large number of them actually one-lane streets.

There are three bridges out. One goes East, where Katrina was also wrecking Alabama. One goes West, to Houston via Baton Rouge. That was the one people wanted. It goes over swamps and Lake Ponchatrain and Lake Maurepas, almost all the way to Baton Rouge. The road South of New Orleans is surrounded by ditches and then swamps. These flood regularly.  Water runs over the road after a storm, traffic stops for awhile, then everybody goes home. But not for Katrina.

All of these bridges were mostly two lanes out, with lane separators, and a generous shoulder in most places. There are, or were, call boxes every 1/10th of a mile. The call boxes are there because once on a bridge, there is no getting off of one. You need gas or car repair? It is geographically impossible to pull your car onto the grass and walk to a station. You need a bungee cord and a rowboat.

Picture a mass evacuation, two lanes of cars. The cars are overloaded and in poor repair. Indeed, on every road trip, one can find people driving cars with no license plates. Each of those cars had a piece of shoddy cardboard in the back window: "Lisens Applid for". Now picture one, just one car, breaking down in the gridlock. Six people get out of it and look under the hood.

And Planning???
When Hurricane Francis hit, two or four years before? I-10 flooded at the city limits of New Orleans and Metairie, the closest suburb. It wasn't very far across. But that particular location, an underpass, is deep. You couldn't get through it. Traffic was backed up all along I-10. People just ran out of gas on the road, or their car overheated, or they stalled it out trying to pretend their car was an amphibious device.

Already Below Sea Level, Already Below Zero
New Orleans is fascinating, lovely, exotic. I still miss it. I'll never forget it.

In the years I knew New Orleans, no police car had all its fenders uncrunched. No NOPD car had hub caps.  That's just what I could see.

There were at least four agencies in the city. The Levee Board police patrolled the levees where the rich people lived. The bridge police patrolled the bridges. Orleans Parish SO served papers and watched prisoners. The NOPD took everything else. The levees were made of land reclaimed from Lake Ponchatrain and were great places to live. Most of your yard was common easement and the Levee Board kept it mowed for you. The LB PD only had thin stretches of parkland and well-to-do people to take care of. They also had state retirement benefits. NOPD had parish retirement benefits.

The Levee Board was supposed to take those real estate earnings and invest them to keep up the levees. The original levees around the lake were earthworks. They were not augmented. Instead they were packed down and diminished by the weight of many jogger's shoes. The money disappeared, long before I ever arrived in Louisiana. And every single one of those homes was under water after Katrina. Not that they were the only ones, mind you.

When I moved there, New Orleans was the murder capital of the world. Maybe it was also the truant capital of America. High school kids drank beer on the street at 1 p.m. to the sound of the house alarms always clanging, clanging, clanging. It seemed that they all clanged for a year. The police couldn't get to them. That year, an alarm was a do not respond call. It just had no priority.

Its housing authority was so corrupt that the Feds would not release the funds slated to New Orleans until they fired some people and did some audits. In the meantime, the projects were crack-and-murder central.  That was the NOPD's place to work. Not Lakefront. Oh no. The NOPD also watched over the city's moneymaking area, the Vieux Carre [Old Square] more commonly known as the French Quarter. That was the safest place in town, and it was not safe unless you stayed with the crowds. I remember watching a hooker nearly rob a blind man in broad daylight. Only my saying, "Watch it," made the blind man stop and put his hand on his wallet. The witch cursed me and kept walking. Fast. Just a little of the everyday.

The School Board held their meetings at Ruth's Chris Steak House while thousands of school children ate in pest-infested cafeterias. Through two different school board administrations. The same problems. The superintendent had a million dollar contract, but nothing changed for the kids during his tenure.

City Hall was full of people whose job was to carry files from one office or another, or, to sell hot dogs for those whose job was to carry files from one office to another. The City Government was bloated. The NOPD was not. They were over-run.

I also know that New Orleans is a port town, and the drug money did cause NOPD scandals every once in awhile. There was a Federal sting once thatcaught some drug-dealing officers, stupid, full of chutzpah. There was an NOPD officer who was a serial killer, who used to take prostitutes and then dump them in the forlorn swamps east of the city. But most of them were just flat busy with crime--recording it, stopping it, arresting those who did it. Dealing with bad equipment and corruption elsewhere. Gearing up for the insane crowds at Mardi Gras, the Jazz Fest, the you-name-it. Plenty of times the city was a free-for-all.

And never more so than when everyone who had the means to get out, got out. All those who had a reason to believe in stability and property to protect: mostly out of town. Or completely inundated and overwhelmed.
Houses, abandoned, or filled with the dead or starving or mentally ill, or those too stubborn to leave.
 Cars couldn't get around. Phones didn't work.  No groceries were entering the city.

Extreme Conditions
But we also need to remember that during Katrina, police officers were attacked in their precincts, completely surrounded by anarchy as soon as the sun went down. That they stayed, with no supplies, to protect and serve. That they were targeted, in at least one instance, at least one night, for hours. It was on CNN.

We need to remember that the good officers got no sleep, no chance to check their own property or even use a phone, because the communications towers were down. There was also no parish jail. It had flooded, with prisoners still in it. There was no hospital. It had flooded, with patients still in it. The doctors had mostly evacuated, leaving people to die in the hospitals with very little care. There was no transport.The NOPD were on their own and on their lone. They mostly had their families out, I think, but not all of them.

The geographical landscape changed. The landscape of competency, available tools, changed. The atmosphere, the tenor of the city, also changed. Unattended deaths. People desperate for food. People living on the roof or looting, shooting, coming off their junk. And who knows what else.

They were scared and without support. If they banded together, it is not to be wondered at.  There was little or no obedience to law. Under such conditions, we need to decide how we will judge. I already know where I stand.

Eleven cops have been indicted. Many, many civilians have not been caught or indicted for what they did in that time--or what responsibilities they fled. I wasn't there. I don't know. And if I had been there, I could not have been everywhere and seen everything. If these police officers robbed people, looted houses and businesses, that's one thing. If they took a sandwich, that's different under those conditions than taking a diamond necklace. If they shot someone, a looter,  that needs to be considered, very carefully, under the circumstances. Very carefully.

Corruption: there's no excuse for disloyalty, for agreeing to break your sworn promise without leaving your office first. I believe that. Do I want to hit the NOPD first? Not by a hell of a sight.

What would you do under anarchy, when no expectation of infrastructure is met? So far, most of us do not know the answer.  And most of all--

It is never easy for the NOPD in the Big Easy. And it was never harder than during Katrina. Let's remember those who kept the faith, before, during, after. Let's don't be too sure we know the score.

Medical Personnel Evacuating Charity Hospital at the Last Minute.
Not all the medical staff left. Not all the critical patients were evacuated.
Those that stayed behind basically comforted the dying
 in a building with no utilities, no fresh air, no potable water. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Paper Pushing, Part 2

There are so many things left:

Twelve file drawers of potential: mine. Mostly alphabetical. Haven't gone through those yet. Much.
Old dreams. Old plans. Many of them are still dreams. Still plans, even.

Four file boxes of income tax for eight years.
The years of the twist: I've sorted through those, and removed the emotional content. I have the letters, the journals, the drawings.

But emotional content still lives over those years, and every paper associated with them. Every page was mis-filed by my suddenly organizationally-challenged husband, held by him or searched for like an anchor in this life, somehow necessary. Medical reports describing him, plans funding him, records of his expenditures or the car he couldn't drive or the truck I drove him to treatment in, the truck he screamed at me in that his life was over if I took away the only hope he had. Papers on the house where he died.

You would think the screaming was a low point. Oh, no. It was a good moment. It was the moment that I knew his life before had not been in vain. That even though there was no right thing any more, that once:

There was a right thing to do, and we had done it.

I can truthfully say that this one screaming moment, in my truck, was the best moment, the least controversial moment, in four years. Because it settled my doubts. But it was sad. He wanted to continue in his profession, and he could not. He was angry because he would not see it and that was what I had to see. It was his better nature at war against the life he had left.

His anger allowed him to continue in hope. It left the rest of us with little to say.

So, just to rein all this inexplicable emotion in, I've hired a consultant.
Tomorrow I take four boxes of papers that apply to four years downstairs to meet with a wonderful, friendly, compassionate, but ultimately business-like person I know. We are going through the papers that should not be emotional. We will decide what can be pitched. What should be shredded. What should be kept for business purposes.

So this will cost me. Yet it is costing me now, to hang onto six copies of an insurance policy or a stray airline ticket that might be tax-deductible.  It doesn't cost money to hang onto papers. It costs me a future. A place to put the tools of my ambition. Or to feature my potential.

Will my life be about the past or the future?
Will I run a museum of inessential data or a home?
Will I be able to separate the emotional from the factual?

I can't do it alone. I have to have help. That  is what the checkbook is for. Money, for the good life. Not trips to the Riviera. But a functional life.

By discarding the non-essential, I preserve the essential. For two lives, really.

Before he was sick, he was part of every growth and potential I ever had. By discarding the non-essential, I make room for the essential.

Sorry if this seems so sad. I'm sad, but not so much. I think it was far worse before.
There's air in my apartment now. A lack of dust. Loved things show up.

Paper Pushing

Who knew one space, 72" wide, and 88" long, could occupy so much freaking time? Well, I'm almost done.

But it's not really the space. It's what it contains. I can't even tell you how many metaphors I have found in cleaning this damned closet. Well, it's not damned any more. And in the meantime, I found incredible things.

Some incredibly painful. Some incredibly boring. Some really nice.

But I think the big one this week is a letter I never sent to my father-in-law. It was too heartbreaking.
He was going to relieve me for part of a week while I went to go visit my sister, get a break. Caregiving. Because we couldn't trust my husband not to go under a surgeon's knife, or to be seizure-free, or to buy $10,0000.00 worth of home repair, or, you name it.

In the letter, I wrote that my husband said to me, very happily, as if it was a visit to a carnival.
"Yeah, if you leave me, you won't know if I'll be dead before you get back!!!!"

It's beyond explanation. Did he want me to feel guilty for leaving? Did he want me to be happy? Was he assessing risk? Was he playing? Scared? Did he want to die? Every last one of those. Every last one, and other things he meant that I can't know.

The world is so big and so full of infinite possibilities. Those include the possibilities for infinite crap.

What I have learned from my closet: my life was sick and twisted and I took care and paid attention. I got so much unusual information. It changed me forever. It's no wonder that I have been heartsick and twisted up.

So maybe I forgive myself a little. Maybe I understand more. Maybe I save that letter, next to all the love letters and cards my husband wrote me, when he was not sick. I have a bunch of them. They are all true.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Zoomin' Everywhere!

I know I'm posting a lot of photos lately, but I am also working STILL on the closet. The desk. The other closet. You know. No improvement is unrelated to any other improvement--I think there's a Russian parable about this, but I don't need it. This train is going forward with or without a story.

In the meantime, Happy Birthday to Bob!  I took this picture and stupidly did not figure out what sort of car it was. But it looks muscular to me! I hope you enjoy!

Get Well Soon, peedee! I still worry about your shoulder. And congratulations on whatever change--here's a phone booth for you to morph into Superwoman. I have a feeling all that rocket fuel you've had lately is going to work out!

Congratulations, Ms. Bunker! No more Boa Constrictor! Time to get that boa, lady.

And to The Observer's BoyCat--Get Well Soon! Quit scaring Mom.
Best Cat Toy Ever.
Happy Sunday! Back to the salt mine!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wake Up You Drunkards

One of the best things about this pic? A UPS driver saw that I was trying to take this shot, and waited further back in the lane until I could get it. What a nice guy.

In case you're wondering, I love this man's sense of collage, his sense of commitment, his willingness to put his beliefs out front for us all, and I disagree with his stand on several of the above.

For those who are truly waking up after tying one on: I recommend menudo, a spicy soup made with brains. Because you lost yours, and this will give you some back. Of course they will be cow brains, LOL.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tuckered Out

You know how I have been working on my closet?? Still in work, but almost under control.

In the meantime, BoyCat and GirlCat have been quite manic. I think they are interested and excited to see the environment change. They love novelty--But--what if Mama throws out the cats with the stuff? This could be bad!!

So I have distracted them from standing in the way of progress, calmed them down, and increased their fun through BRIBERY. They have been playing with a filmy spangled scarf I planned to throw away. My mom sent it to me for Halloween one year--for what character, I don't know. If you drape it over a cat, they can see through it and yet they are deliciously hidden at the same time! Oh, my gosh! They have been pouncing on each other and running around, all because of this scarf.

The other layer of junk on top of this flat file is a long, crackly piece of packing paper and an Ace Hardware bag. Same thing--hide and seek, tearing, wrinkling, crackling, and finally, after a hard day's play:

The bag and crackly paper will wear out by the end of this weekend. I think the scarf is now a permanent cat toy.
My superstars. LOL.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The National Debt

I don't care if you're liberal or conservative, authoritarian or libertarian--

Whatever you believe our government should do in the way of programs, policies, and initiatives--
Whatever you believe our government should get its damned nose out of--

You need to look at the national deficit.
I am not going to send you to anyplace that calls this "Babylon" or "Nero fiddling as Rome burns" or a site that whops one President or another, or indeed points fingers at anyone.

I'm going to send you straight to the guys who report it and let you come to your own conclusion. 
The Federal Government. The U.S. Treasury. We still have transparency in this country. We need to take a look at the truthful things our government is reporting for us.

The interest we have paid so far to our debtors in the last ten months is:


.That's the Interest. It's not the Principal, which means we have paid MORE.

This is from the report of the General Accounting Office (GAO) for 2003.  This does point to dates, and leads me to my conclusion as to where to point fingers. However, its Real Value is explaining how we financially transact debt. In short, never mind who's to blame. Learn how it's done.

Cash surpluses during fiscal years 1998 through 2001 enabled Treasury to reduce debt held by the public by $476 billion, from $3,815 billion as of September 30, 1997, to $3,339 billion as of September 30, 2001. Treasury reduced this debt by redeeming maturing debt, reducing the number of auctions and size of new debt issues, conducting “buybacks” of debt before its maturity date, and redeeming callable securities when the opportunities arose.2 
However, because of the return to deficits, in fiscal years 2002 and 2003, debt held by the public increased by $585 billion, with about $371 billion of this increase occurring in fiscal year 2003. Treasury issued more debt by increasing the number of auctions and the size of new debt issues. During fiscal year 2003, Treasury reintroduced the 3-year note, which will be offered every quarter. In addition, Treasury increased the offerings of the 5-year note from quarterly to monthly offerings; the 10-year note from an offering every quarter to eight offerings a year; and the 10-year inflation indexed note from three offerings a year to an offering every quarter. Notwithstanding the increases in fiscal years 2002 and 2003, debt held by the public as a percentage of total federal debt has decreased from approximately 71 percent as of September 30, 1997, to approximately 58 percent as of September 30, 2003.

Debt is held by the people/ individual states/ local governments or by the world market. That also tells you who is making the money off of it. For instance, the City of New York (or my Condo Board) might buy a T-bill and fund City Functions with that interest--a no-risk bond that protects the principal and gives back income.

This report tells us that debt is being held 42% by the market and not by the American people. The GAO is telling us also that the old debt was more internal, and when we made new debt, we went external, to get a lot of money fast. This in response to a national security crisis. Oh, do I find that ironic.

So even though I know whose watch this was, and detest this person myself--have even named my vacuum cleaner for this man, because it sucks so much dirt--

It doesn't matter any more. It only matters What We Do.

We need to get this thing corralled. Every other battle we are fighting--for good education here and for literacy in Afghanistan, for soldiers to have body armor and police officer to have it, to increase manufacturing in this country or stop all unsafe manufacturing--Every Single Thing--is affected by this deficit.

I encourage you to look around the Web to find more reasons to hate the deficit. I also encourage you to take stock of your political priorities, whatever those may be,  and set them against the frame of the deficit. Let's save that money! Let's reduce our debt! Then, with what we save, we can argue over what to spend it on.

Go get 'em. I implore you.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crime and Insurrection: Local Economics, part 1

Credit: AP, via UK's Independent
When I read law enforcement blogs, I frequently come across writers who are convinced that civil conflict has started or is on its way. They don't mean a bad Friday night, either. They frequently see the destruction of civil society as a permanent or lasting problem, close to or past the tipping point to insurrection.

This is hard for many of us to reconcile in other neighborhoods. And as a nation, we don't seem to be at that point. Look at Iraq: just yesterday, a suicide bomber blew himself up along with 61 Army recruits. Perhaps we could look at Hemet, California, or Chicago, Illinois, and see equally deadly, unpredictable, and fatal or potentially-fatal results for law enforcement. Places where terrorist attempts or local violence has escalated to mean that local authority has no sway.

Customary Expectations
Nevertheless, even in Hemet and Chicago, most people have an expectation that they will be able to buy groceries from their desired list instead of whatever's available. They expect to be able to drive there without too much chaos, complain about gas prices but still be able to obtain some from a safe device, complete their shopping, and go back home without incident. Odds are highly favorable that this set of actions will occur as predicted. This is not the case in Baghdad. Baghdad has civil conflict. They have war.

The United States is not at war with itself. But something is up, and it is a crisis for us as a society. It's past time to examine what these law enforcement professionals are telling us. It's important to relate their real-life, anecdotal, experiential accounts to a discipline and study instead of a platform or set of platitudes such as "tough on crime" or even "soft on crime".

This post compares the economic predispositions toward civil war, as studied by international political economy, applied to our own international, local, political economy. (Footnotes below).

Paul Collier  on Economic Drivers of Civil Conflict
Earlier I posted twice on Paul Collier's work. He asserts that civil conflict has consistent economic features. Here are the high points:

A. Economists view civil conflict as crime, since it
1. is against the law and
2. causes the destruction or seizure of capital assets (reorganizing ownership).

For those of you who aren't used to this way of looking at it: when an army invades: they take your factory or trample your crops. They loot your house, eat or waste your food, kill your sons and carry off your daughters. These are property crimes and crimes against persons.

When your car stereo is stolen, and somebody fences it, it changes something for you--but not on the same Scale. Likewise, if your son is murdered for his watch or your daughter brutalized, these are horrible, life-changing tragedies. But they are still not war, because in general they are Exceptions to the local Majority experience. There is still someplace to go (the police, a minister, a counselor) in your milieu. It is still, terrible as it is, on a lesser scale.

 Yet if you take these crimes against property and even persons as an economic event, you will see that they have reorganized ownership. They took a watch, a car stereo, a life that did not belong to them. They disposed of it as they saw fit. Add all these up in aggregate--a car stereo, a watch, lost human capital--lost wages as well as a lost life. Pretty soon you're talking about a lot of reorganized wealth.

And when that reorganization and violence become Customary, or the Majority experience under local conditions, with little or no recourse, it begins to approach the conditions of War.

B. Three economic features drive civil conflict. They are:
1. Nation trades in one (or few) commodities, and does not produce what it needs to live. It must trade for those goods. Or put it another way: the economy is unvaried. It has one main industry, and everything else supports it. consider a mining town, for instance, with a few stores that all live on mine owner purchases and mine worker wages.

2.Low national income.

3. The "revolutionaries" have the means to fund revolt, (through appropriation/theft of national commodity, remittances or donations from elsewhere, and / or illegal activities such as piracy, kidnapping, or extortion.

C. The economic causes of civil war will be cloaked in public relations, the language of grievance and protest.
--I won't get to this one today.

Macro versus Micro
In aggregate, this country is huge, with plenty of resources. On the local level, in many inner cities or poverty enclaves (condition # 2), these conditions do apply. These are what police bloggers are informally calling "war zones." There is little industry: chain restaurants, a few drug stores, some bottle-and-sandwich outlets. If you need to buy a shower curtain or a decent frying pan, you must go elsewhere. Same with services: no dry cleaner, few auto repair shops, pawn shops that lock down like jails and maybe a hardware store. Joblessness is high--if you count legitimate jobs especially.

Illegitimate jobs
There are two kinds of illegitimate jobs. One is to do honest work (car repair, house-cleaning, house-painting, plumbing, whiskey distillation, clothing import/export by the suitcase-load, etc etc) without benefit of a license or payment into the government's tax regime (of which licenses and permits are a part). The other is to engage in illegitimate work that is in itself a crime (selling drugs, pimping, kidnapping for ransom, and so forth).

The former is a drag on the tax system--just ask Former Soviet states, where a good part of the challenge of building the economy is to get it on an official standing. But again, this is a matter of scale. We forget that most business in the U.S. grew under a lack of licensing and permitting by the state. Just as an example, stagecoach stations had horses, carriages, guns, food and sometimes beds--but also no standards for animal care, stagecoach repair, marksmanship, sanitary food or sheets on the beds. Conditions were frequently appalling. Yet they were integral to continental transit. They hired people. Poverty does not grow into a middle class unless some barriers to entry are low.

In the unofficial economy, many services are bartered or run on a goodwill system--untaxable already. And it's not optimal, according to our contemporary standards. A renegade auto mechanic is not disposing of oil properly (I'm betting). He's not paying taxes or attending classes that certify his understanding of computer chips in cars. A woman who sells home cooking without a food license has not taken food handler classes (these cost $500 to $1000 per person, are only offered occasionally, and do not automatically net you the license, which is another fee).  On the other hand, the mechanic and the cook are not unemployed. They are entrepreneurs, building a local economy that inner cities would otherwise not have. Their industry is also very precarious.

Illegal Markets
For the United States, the real challenge is the second category of illegal work. In a way, the unofficial-legal economy is part of the good in a poor neighborhood. They make up a sector of productive economy. They keep normal life running in a location with few official goods and services.

In contrast to the unofficial-illegal economy, the criminal market is running on one class of industry--that in illegal drugs. Other sorts of crime are lucrative, but the various drug markets constitute the overwhelming percentage of dollars earned and numbers employed. The other crimes have become externalities to drug markets, or a source of capital for entering the drug market in a bigger way.

The world market for illegal drugs is hard to get a dollar feel for, because it is unofficial. But figures from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime estimated USD 110 billion yearly ten years ago. When I checked the Worldometer at the time of this writing, the total they estimate so far this year world-wide is 251 billion and counting. This is, for a poor neighborhood, the only rapid-growth industry. It dominates economic activity and  ensures that Collier's condition # 1 is met in full--a one-note, unvarying economy. Because it leads to other crime, it creates barriers to entry for other, more varied industry, goods, and services. It also looks like the only real-money profession around.

The third condition of civil conflict is that there is money to spend on it--that there is funding. The funding in the "unofficial war zones" that law enforcement continually faces comes from a variety of sources. There is, when you add it all up, plenty of money to be found.

1. Illegal drug sales.
2. Prostitution
3. Property crimes
4. Extortion from other criminals, such as the "street tax" collected by the Mexican Mafia.
5. Public assistance
6. Wages diverted from other wage-earners (e.g., "borrowing" from someone who has a job).

I have more to say on this issue, and to drag other economic findings in. The point I would like to leave with today is that civil conflict does appear to be a huge problem in the United States in growing areas. We are not at war with ourselves in the grand picture. Yet in almost every city we have microclimates that contain the economic elements required for violent civil conflict on a large scale. And because of the money involved, these microcosms are connecting to each other. They are growing in area. At what point could this growth in area, population, and local risk constitute a threat to national integrity?

I am not advocating that everyone buy a bunker and a machine gun. It would be better if we looked at these conditions and made some assessments. Then we can lower the risk of civil conflict and re-introduce conditions conducive to law and order.

I'm going to gather some supporting posts from police officers who blog and collect them here.

I will talk about drug markets more fully, using Levitt and Ventakesh, a few others. This set of thoughts will grow and be extend my Crime, Economics, and Cities series. Also, I want to spend some time on the language of grievance, on the organization/coalitions necessary for civil conflict to organize.

Just food for thought.

Second City Cop for Chicago's out-of-control crime. A recent post.
Hemet California PD's troubles at Ann T. Hathaway
Click on the Worldometer to see the estimated total U.S. Dollars spent on illegal drugs worldwide this year. When I checked, it was $251 billion.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Social Dilemma

Let's just say you're a member of a Condo Board. The previous manager didn't do any work, he may even have stolen from  you (I'm still looking). His negligence cost the association many thousands of dollars in uncollected payments. His lying about his qualifications and then giving (bad) advice led your board to approve a half-assed plan that left 1/3 of the building without hot showers. You are now spending tens of thousands of dollars to fix this. You suspect, but cannot prove, kickbacks from the previous contractors.

He talked bad about each Board Member behind their backs, de-trained the staff, left without notice after writing himself a check for unused vacation (which is against our by-laws). It was not enough to be actionable.

Now he's back in town. And isn't he friendly? You see him all the time!!

What do you do?

So, the kick ass. That's my first choice.
I think verbal abuse is my second choice, but it's not natural to me. Much.
The cut direct--you know, where you refuse to acknowledge their presence--is my next choice.
So far he has been getting stiff greetings to his most friendly overtures. I am sure this is very funny, and I come off as very gauche.
However, am I supposed to pretend he's not a lying snake in the grass?

My etiquette is at war with my principles. Please advise.

photo from spreadshirt.com

from The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn's shortest and probably most read book on prison camps is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. In it Ivan spends the day working to survive, only. If he was jailed for a crime, he's no criminal now. If he was a political dissident, all that is gone too. Ivan Denisovich does not have anyone to send him packages from outside, the things that would enable him to keep from starving or to enjoy small pleasures. He therefore works, a constant opportunist, trying to find ways to earn a piece of sausage or a pinch of tobacco.

The First Circle
Another book Solzhenitsyn wrote about prison camps is entitled The First Circle. The title is meant to recall Dante's first circle of hell--not very far down in hell, and yet no access to heaven or even freedom to roam the earth. The prison here is for intellectuals still of use to an extremely-paranoid Stalin. The prisoners are kept in line by the threat of a worse prison--a far more dangerous gulag in Siberia, for instance. To stay in the First Circle, they must work on Stalin's projects. This particular team is involved in cryptography, that uses math (Euler functions)  to help crack codes.

But one or more of the prisoners in this "country club prison" decide they will no longer aid the regime that has imprisoned them. The book is highly autobiographical, so you get a good view of themes Solzhenitsyn will be considering in his massive Gulag Archipelago series.

I always loved a particular quote in this book. This is an exchange between Pyotr and Nerzhin. If Nerzhin was not actively dissident before, has become so now. He is going to lose everything for the sake of principles, and he knows it.
'Pyotr Tromfimovich, do you know how to make shoes?"
"What did you say?"
'I asked; Will you teach me how to make shoes?"
"Pardon? I don't understand."
"Pyotr Trofimovich, you're living in a shell. I, after all, will finish my sentence and go off to the remote taiga, to permananent exile. I don't know how to work with my hands, so how will I live? It's full of bears. Out there we won't need the Euler functions for three more geological eras."
"What are you talking about, Nerzhin! As a cryptographer, if the work is successful, you'll be freed ahead of your sentence, the conviction will be removed from your record, and you will be given an apartment in Moscow."
"They'll remove the conviction from my record!" Nerzhin cried angrily, his eyes narrowing. "Where did you get the idea I want that little gift? 'You've worked well, we'll free you, forgive you. ' No, Pyotr Trofimovich!" And with his forefinger he stabbe at the varnished surface of the littel table. "You're beginning at the wrong end. Let them admit first that it's not right to put people in prison for their way of thinking, and then we will decide whether we will forgive them."

I have learned various things from this quote. One, that it is necessary to have techne/practical knowledge, the ability to make things, as well as intellectual attainments, in order to be truly free to decide. I think I worry about the U.S. sometimes because I fear we are losing especially practical knowledge: skilled trades. Yet, if I return to Ivan Denisovich, I can see that skilled trade is not enough either. Ivan Denisovich's world is small. He can't grasp anything beyond the immediate, or see that his incarceration is only part of a wider world.

Illya Repin
To illustrate something of the hazards of camps, I bring you an oil painting from Tsarist Russia, by Illya Repin: They Did Not Expect Him (1884-1888). Repin painted the return of a man from the Tsar's gulag. The picture will expand if you click on it. It is considered one of his best works and is an image I turn to over and over as well.

I don't mean to give a depressing message, but one about self-reliance, self-help, freedom v. despotism, and expanding horizons. I think many authors write about prison camps as a microcosm of the world of daily routine.

We need to look up every once in awhile. We need to look down every so often. And sometimes, we need to look beyond.

Anyway, this is what I thought about today.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I Would Prefer a Mayor Who Doesn't Want to Go to Jail

We are having mayoral campaigns soon in D.C. One big issue for this locality is "Taxation without Representation."

We want Congressional seats and for our primaries to count for something. The Founding Fathers were afraid I think that D.C. would become a huge courtier's paradise, with people constantly seeking to influence the President and Congress locally as they went to parties or picnics. They were trying to avoid excessive local-ness of interest.

Perhaps they sensed that the United States really would be this vast continental stretch. Or perhaps it was related somewhat to the slave question. Or perhaps the jealousy of those in outlying sections of the original 13 states, who feared the U.S. would become the United Colonies of Whatever Virginia Wanted.

But it hasn't worked out that D.C. is courtier-central in the way that voting would make a difference. It IS courtier-central, but voting is the least of it. The courting goes on with lobbies, not votes. Most of those elected come from far away. Many of those courted are administrators who are not touched by the electoral process. In the meantime, DC has a voting electorate that has often been ignored. Since most of them believe in the power of government or are somehow attached to it, they get really exercised about having their opinion ignored. LOL. 

And then there are the traditionally disenfranchised. The people who stick with DC are not the middle class or upper class who come for the courting. They are the poor and those who serve the bigwigs their coffee in the morning. Everybody else is very temporary.

So right now, we have a candidate running for mayor who says he would commit "acts of civil disobedience" in order to protest DC's unrepresented status. At which time, he would be arrested, and it would be a good thing.
WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 13: (FILE PHOTO)  Former...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Well, it would be better than the last mayor who got himself arrested.

Washington DC hasn't always had a mayor. Marion Barry served as its second one, from 1979-1991. He was busted in 1990 on drug charges. In the meantime, the city had gone to hell without a responsible leader in charge. I remember hearing on NPR that police officers at that time barely had any budget. The funds for crime kits had been misappropriated or cut. The result was that there were no rape kits. Therefore there were no prosecutions for rape that could survive a trial.

It would go like this: the evidence kits that medical/LEO personnel tried to put together on their own were therefore not standard. Therefore all the evidence was tossed out when the Defense brought this up.

I still get mad about this when I think of it. This is what corruption is really about: not just a waste of taxpayer money, but a waste or diminishment of Every. Single. Freaking. Effort. To Do Good.

Anyway, Mr. Barry served six months in the Federal prison system, and could not run for re-election. However, when he got out, he was back on campaign and was re-elected mayor in 1994, serving until 1999. Congress, which has special powers in DC, appointed a special agency to disburse the funds to the city--just an expensive special oversight to make sure the city funds didn't go up one man's nose.

In 2005, he was elected the Ward 8 councilman and still on and off in trouble. In March of this year, the council voted unanimously to strip him of all council assignments.

Why does he get re-elected? Believe it or not, I HAVE asked. Because the electorate of Ward 8 loves him. He has done for them for years. And he has huge name recognition. And because his electorate feels he represents the truly disenfranchised class in DC.

Congress has always been a little high-handed about DC conditions. Sometimes that has been a good thing, but not always.

But I would like a mayor who concentrated on city management and staying out of jail. I think it's more important than DC statehood. Make no mistake--not having a full vote is limiting. Sometimes I even find it frustrating. But having a mayor hell-bent for jail is far, far, far, worse.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

An URL to Remember

hey, Fb users--free to do, helps police officers everywhere!!

I don't have an account and I'm not ready for one--yet--sorry, peedee! I think I have to gear up on all the other things I'm not doing first.

But for those of you on Facebook, would you go
read up if you want to, and hit "like"?

This is for Jeff Shannon at Police Mental Health blog. He's now on Facebook and trying to get his message to more people. His FaceBook  URL  is too long for those that need to access him easily.

If he gets enough hits, they'll give him an URL to remember.

The Beautiful Blogger Award!

This past week, while I was beautifying elsewhere, Mrs. Fuzz over at a police wife blog (and also fuzz food) conferred upon me the "Beautiful Blogger" Award!! I am very flattered to receive this award. I love to read Mrs. Fuzz. Her life is an adventure in her blog posts. One of my favorite posts of hers talks about a near-catastrophic experience while taking care of her children. There was nothing to do but laugh when the wagon didn't crash down the ravine, and I think that's a sensible, winning, and charming attitude. All of her posts show that she is a gallant and thoughtful lady.

In order to accept this award, I must tell you ten things about myself.

Ten True Confessions!
1. I have only shot a pistol once in my life. I went out with my mother and brother to target-shoot. Darned if I know what kind of pistol it was. My mom has shot guns all her life. My brother was at that time in the USAF. We shot at paper plates and I had the best pattern on my paper plates than any of them.  My brother was seriously ticked off.

2. I went to charm school when I was twelve. I Wanted to go, and Begged to be Allowed. I received a diploma in charm and a white carnation. :-)  I found the picture this week, along with a picture of me winning a bronze at a swim meet the year before. Two good finds.

3. Once my husband and I took a class in ballroom dancing. I loved it. My husband didn't seem to be having a good time. They separated us for about twenty minutes, and then at the end of the first lesson my husband was smiling and enjoying himself. I asked him why, and he said, "I learned I have to push you around when I want you to go somewhere."

4. I have a horseshoe over my door for good luck. It's facing the proper way, too. I bought it in a tourist trap in Arizona. I also have three feng shui signs for success hanging in my entry. I am, despite all training in reason, a trifle superstitious.

For instance, in feng shui, a jade plant is supposed to bring prosperity, because it has plump round leaves like coins and is obviously full of juice. When my jade plant died, I thought I might be single-handedly responsible for the recession. Then I came to my senses and realized it had died months beforehand. It was somebody else's dead jade plant that caused the recession.

5. Although I am from Texas, I have never owned a cowboy hat or boots. I have often wanted the hat, but feel that only REAL cowgirls can authentically wear a cowgirl hat. Instead I have a hot-pink straw, a light pink straw, a neutral straw, and a leather gang-banger's-style top hat. I love that hat.

6. In college, I was active in the student union on the Hospitality Committee, the Summer Dinner Theatre Committee, and the Arts Committee. I did public relations for all three, plus the Hospitality Committee serves a lot of punch and cookies. The punch was made of lime sherbet and Seven-Up. I can barely think of it now without wondering how we lived through drinking that concoction once a week or more. We met a lot of people in that committee, which was fun. I distinctly remember wearing a blue sheet like a toga with Reynold's wrap trim and having my hair in a pouf to hostess something for the Science Fiction Committee once. But usually we just wore clothes. And I assure you that the SF Committee was quite decorous.

7. One of my big challenges with photography is that I would like to take portraits of street people. I haven't quite worked up the courage. I actually think a lot of them might enjoy it, but you never know.

8. Although I understand this is considered an adolescent concern, I am very much concerned with "what's fair" in life. I can live with many unfair things, (people breaking in line, for instance, or other mild annoyances) but unfairness to children or in big things drives me nuts.

9. I think I have been blessed/cursed with more than one vocation in life. Almost all of them are creative vocations, and then a crusading vocation as well. My challenge is to bring these many into a full harvest. Soon.

10. I've been working on my fiction manuscript all over again. But not this week, because I've been in the closet. That helps in the long run, but not this week. :-)

And now, to confer the Award! All you have to do is keep the chain, so that people can network backward and forward across the Internet, making new friends and learning about each other. Then also, to tell ten things about yourself: any items you would like us to know that are truthful.

The Envelope, Please!
1. peedee at Queen of the Dogs
She's recently changed her blog's look--Dear peedee, I miss the palm trees BUT I think this layout features your great photography much better!! Muahs!! Going over to peedee's blog is like coming to a party. Sometimes there's music and sometimes political discussions, dogs, SoFla events, or who knows, but everybody gets to be who they are and enjoy a great read. Get well soon, peedee!

2. Bob G. at The Pa-In Erudition
Every day I go visit Bob to get the skinny on two states, the state of the nation, gardening, birds, Mr. Bunny Rabbit, true issues in education and federal government. Bob keeps a soapbox in his garage for me to stand on when I feel the need. Not only that, but he writes the funniest/most insightful comments. Go, Bob!

3. The Observer at South Kansas City's best Newspaper
The Observer does it all--editorials, pet news, weather, crime, politics, medical issues, school closings, churches, incrrredible cars, gardening, and even small business reports. I think she must be on the road 24/7! And yet she is always thoughtful and fun to read. xo, T.O.!

Awards 4-8 go to people that already have received them. But you know, I love to read your blogs so much. You guys are exempt from having to contrive a new way to be Beautiful Bloggers, because you already are: just add my name to your list of admirers.

4. Momma Fargo at The Boogie Man is My Friend
Honestly, Momma, I have learned so much from you. And not only that, you've pretty much had the summer from hell-floods and stuff--so instead of writing a new post over this, just give yourself a pat on the back. You are a beautiful, funny, thoughtful writer.

5. Slamdunk at Slamdunks.
I want to send you a wish that your visit to Texas is a good one. Do nothing except feel the friendship, right?

6. Yellow at Ammo in the Dryer
Seriously, Mrs. Fuzz already awarded this blogger the Beautiful Blogger Award. But she makes me laugh out loud--almost every post--and underneath all this is a lot of dedication to her family and loving care and attention to the stuff that makes a home run. She's a new friend and a great read!

7. The Bug at The Bug's Eye View
Talk about beautiful blogging--it was The Bug who inspired me to change my blog appearance because she did such a great job with her own. It's green and happy, with big sunflowers at the top. Then the blog itself is full of real life happenings, thoughtful poetry, reminiscences of her work in Africa and in Ohio, photographs of the good life. Keep sharing the view, dear Bug!

8. Gia at A Gia's Life!
Gia already also got this award! Darling angel, I like your new blog face too! Better every time!
Wishing you every thing good there is.

9. There's a new blog up from a great commenter on this blog. Several posts have been so full of pictures of real gardening--not just flowers, but the wildlife around--quite fascinating a presentation. Carolina Linthead (C.L.) has a new blog, Child of a Frosty Morning. If you like a little art mixed with history with some poetry and photography thrown in, he's a man of multiple talents!

10. and 11. and 12.
Last of all, I have three more to mention: one has already been awarded--Officer Butler at Spark Check  He writes fantastic, realistic accounts.  Recently he wrote me that he tries to use under 400 words in a post. So you get concentrated, quite elegant language that treats frequently inelegant subjects. I love his work.  Someday I too will write a 400-word post. But obviously not today.

I also want to mention another police blog, The Police Mental Health blog. It is relatively new, and I have featured it before. Jeff Shannon writes a new post once a week about the stress of police life and how to understand it, for people in the field. I think a lot of people read it, but only the women generally seem to comment. (I wonder why that is? He probably has an explanation.). Anyway, he is performing a real service and not always getting the feedback he deserves.

I wish him very well, and a huge readership.

And recently, somebody commented over at Texas Ghostrider's blog that they didn't like his typeface and color choices. Are they nuts??!!  TGR, I love the way your blog looks. Don't change a thing. You are also a  beautiful blogger!

So that's twelve instead of ten, but some of them I don't think will be participating, so it should work out. You will note that I avoided the number 13. :-)

Mrs. Fuzz, Thanks for the award!
Congratulations to the New Awardees!! 

You guys all have a great day!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

John Lee Hooker

As you might now, I love the blues. I don't know why it's taken me so long to look for them this summer!
But both of these are a bit meditative blues. Longer passages, less 'hooks'. They build on you, the way Baroque music might, but with a totally different mood and instrumentation.

Hobo Blues from 1967

And Tupelo, Mississippi, also known as Black Water Blues, performed in 1993.

Friday, August 13, 2010

What's In the Closet

I remember when I moved to this tiny condominium from a fairly large duplex. Before that, I lived in a three-bedroom house with only two people to spread out and do all kinds of projects. I cut down considerably for the duplex, and then I came to Hot Winds, the town where all blather blows. Rents and mortgages are sky-high and floor plans are low in square feet.

When I moved, it was the first time I hired a professional mover. If I am smart, I will never do that again. It cost the moon, and they wrecked one file cabinet, my sewing machine, and double-dinged my sofa. Plus I slept on the floor for two weeks because they warehoused my load instead of bringing it on. In my own truck I had a cat, a box of pans and toiletries, another box of cleaning supplies, a yard chair, and a pair of binoculars that somehow got left out of a box. When I unpacked, I felt like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, with a soupcon of the Joads added in.

But before that, I had to cut down.

I did it by math. I was moving from 1500 to 500 square feet, so every category had to be cut by two-thirds. That was 1. large furniture, 2. occasional furniture, 3. memorabilia, 4. financial records, 5. books, and 6. kitchen/bath. And art supplies, sewing supplies, scrapbooks, etc etc.

I never did succeed in cutting down the books two-thirds. At that time I had about 3,000 volumes.  But I spent a long majority of time on this. RiverTown had eight used bookstores. I would cull down and take boxes in for trade. One day I had twelve cartons to trade. The first store took five of them and in exchange I took three books. What a deal!

I took the rejected seven boxes to the next store, and then on and on. The eight-times-rejected last two boxes went to Goodwill. In the meantime, I had garnered a huge box of New Books. The only one I remember for sure getting from that trade-a-thon is An Encyclopedia of Georgian England, which I still have. It's a great book. And I got it down to about 1500 volumes, which I thought was pretty good.

Financial records can only be pared down so much. But I threw out, sold, gave away, and traded around a bunch of items. One person at my bookstore had become an amateur carpenter. I gave away the table he had made me as a gift. But I was afraid he'd find it elsewhere. I drove out of town and left it at a Goodwill in another region of Louisiana.

I find that much of what I own still has out-sized identifiers on it. I watched a friend of mine go through a hell of grief--both her parents died, and her sister committed suicide. She was drowning in old possessions to either sell or keep or real estate that needed serious rehab. My book trade-a-thon was a small piece of what she was trying to do. When my husband died, I determined I wouldn't get stuck as she did. Plus I had to sell a bunch of it in order to keep going for awhile.

And yet.

Most of what is in the closet is not clothes. It is old memories. I threw out so many pictures when I moved, but I still had eight small albums of them (still do). I have files on everything I've ever studied, including the best artist postcard collection you've ever seen. I have tin boxes from a great-grandmother I never met and china cats from a grandmother that passed away--my other grandmother's bread knife and my grandfather's bow tie, gloves and pitchers and silver trays I never used even in the day and who knows what all?

All of these things could be valued and valuable to my life. But at what point do they hinder the growth of new life? Part of the reason I have been taking so long is that it is hard to figure out what would be a representative collection.  Because I do not want to be buried along with the dead people in my life. I want to move forward. But I don't want to forget them either.

It's not that I love the possessions, or couldn't live without them. I love the people, and I love the history. But too much personal history is not conducive to personal movement. It does me no good to save Christmas ornaments if there's no place to put a tree, for instance. So, either the ornaments go, or something else leaves that makes room for a tree, and a Christmas party--a joyous celebration in the middle of winter. Determining between those two is easy. But then there are follow-up choices that have to be made. Each of them requires some painstaking thinking.

I got rid of the dinged-up couch months ago and have yet to find a replacement. The two dress forms are going to go--place for a Christmas tree if I want one. The photo albums are staying and so is my grandfather's bow tie. The silver Elegant-Ware is out the door someday soon.

For some people, these will look like the wrong choices. For me, they will be the right ones.

Where the Heck is Ann T.?


After a Week: Still Not Done!! But getting close.

The boxes on the left are slated for Shredding.

I'm also plastering in the kitchen and going through file cabinets. Not to mention.
Hey! When I'm done, I can start on your garage!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Green Row House

A little shabby. About three blocks east of where streets are revitalizing. Their time will come. 

In the meantime, the green paint has faded and cracked and softened. I know improvement is good, but when these houses are rehabbed, who will be able to afford them? 

Yet there is absolutely nothing I would do to prevent someone from trying to get their money back. Rehabbing is expensive. It frequently doesn't pay to make a house of smaller expectations. I think that is why condominium ownership is a good way for inner cities to keep a middle class. 

In the case of this rowhouse, though, we are talking four families, maximum, to split the costs--three floors plus the English basement. There is a problem of scale with that. It would be better to own the whole row and defray the costs by that many families. And that takes a larger investor. Again, where does the middle class go?

Truly, I love them just as they are.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Over My Head

Well, I will be busy this weekend. Besides the condo board things, the post-bed bug slump, the heat, rain, steam cycle out there in the real world, and Cleaning my Closet, I have also been  re-familiarizing myself about Caribbean failed states and reading up on Mexico's drug war. I posted a few articles and explanations here, but want to make them into blog posts for my gang series.

In the meantime, everybody have a great weekend! I am also behind on my blog reading as well as writing, and plan to catch up with you all.

 I was walking this day. But that was too bad, because these are just the kind of bicycles Miss Ellen would like to make friends with.

Have a great weekend, everybody!
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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Passing By

Not Exactly the Cuban Missile Crisis or Anything

We interrupt previously-scheduled programming because Bed Bug Inspections will Occur on my floor today. It is not that I have to do anything for it. I'm just distracted.

Normally, our Condominium Association gives Free Extermination. This is of course a free ride for the messy people in the building. However, it also encourages reportage/complaints so that the entire building is not inundated. It's a good plan and it mostly works.

There is one older man with diminished capacity who is so used to his bugs now, he thinks everyone has them and that this is normal. Recently, his family was called and impressed with the health hazard he really was. They took a week to visit and re-did his living quarters for him. They also paid for extermination services above and beyond. It was terrible. At the same time, that was a real show of love, let me tell you., by them--and a teeth-gritting attention to duty by the cleaning help and exterminators.

The last time this happened, another older man--with no family. In that case, he also had Alzheimer's. A court-appointed ward took over for the same result. It was also awful, beyond words terrible.  But he started showing up with a smile and a clean purple or green shirt and pressed trousers. They did a good job for him. Decency.

For this crisis, the Condo Board agreed to pay a slightly higher cost for inspections in order to give individuals somewhat of a break. Most of those who have them are going to have to ditch a lot of furniture, pay to have it wrapped and taken away, and have other high unexpected costs. We are, however, not so large-hearted as to pay for their in-unit treatment. And we will enforce it. We will even pay it and send those poor residents to collections. You can't even avoid the inspection--if we can't get in, we're drilling locks, replacing them, and billing for that. We've got the Hatchet, you know. I've got the ledgers. But my main worry is tomorrow.

I am restraining two cats from depredations on Bug-Sniffing Beagles who are invading their territory. I understand the invasion of the Beagles will be short. However, it is the longer-term invasion that concerns me.

I don't have bed bugs! But I also don't have a Beagle Nose.
Tonight, I may well write on economic indicators of failing neighborhoods. However, if the Beagle smells Bugs, I can assure you I will be tottering down to a local dive to drink a lot of Kickapoo Joy Water. 

List of dog breedsImage via Wikipedia

I have been told by other, normally-sensible residents, that my anxiety is perfectly normal. Ah, fate! I am in your hands.  In the meantime, some thing are going right lately with Zombie Ambition and the Condo Board. We are On Top of Things.

Cartoons are from Al Capp's Lil Abner, so is Kickapoo Joy Juice.

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