wierd dream: interpretations welcome

i'm in the living room of a well-appointed house i've never seen, decorated in a style that reminds me somewhat of an ex-girlfriend's parents. it's night, there are a few lamps on, and i'm making my way across the room to the far corner, where i enter a bathroom, filled with blue-green light, pretty dim. someone, evidently one of my sisters, is taking a shower, and my parents are asleep in the next room. there's a short exchange of words in hushed 'don't-wake-up-the-parents' tones, and i want to get out of the bathroom. as i'm leaving i look down and notice some clothes on the floor, including some shoes and a couple black lace bras. for some reason i understand that these belong to my mother. i turn to go, and somehow one of these bras is hooked around my arm at the crook of my elbow. i can't figure out how it appeared there, but it has to go. as i'm removing it i notice it's ridiculously large. i fold it as carefully as someone who knows nothing about folding a bra can, and place it with the others, and leave.

as i re-enter the living room, a rather surprisingly plump and cherubic Christina Ricci- who looks about 12 yrs old- is having a conversation with a black man who evidently has some sort of super powers. he's trying to convince her that she needs to make use of her own powers; she's insisting that she doesn't need to use hers to go after bad guys. their conversation is also taking place in hushed tones and they don't seem to notice me.

suddenly i'm high in the air, looking down, over the shoulder of the black super-powered man, who's 'superhero costume' is a clown suit, predominantly yellow. he's levitating in a stationary position over some clouds, i'm above and behind him, slightly to his right. through a break in the clouds i can see city streets. from this i can tell we're about a thousand feet up. it's all bright and sunshiny.

suddenly i'm seeing Reginald VelJohnson, the actor who played the junk-food eating cop in the movie Die Hard. he's sitting at a dead stop in traffic, at night, in a police uniform, and he's in a hurry. he strikes the steering wheel of his car with the open palm of his hand, losing his patience, yelling, "Come on!" i realize i'm looking at this from beside him, in my own car, stuck in the same traffic.

somehow a path forward opens to me, and i take it, leaving Reginald behind. the 'bad guy' we're both evidently chasing is up ahead. i punch the gas. the roads are cleared out, the bad guy's speeding ahead recklessly with me on his tail. the road narrows to a couple lanes, and he just barely clips the corner of a chain-link fence, taking a 90-degree right hand turn. i take the corner better than he does, and gain some ground. the chain-link fence is flashing past us on the right. there's a white tractor trailer ahead in the right lane. the bad guy darts into the left lane to pass, i follow him. i'm right on his tail. the road ahead takes another sharp right turn; the bad guy jumps back into the right lane, i do likewise, he takes the corner with me right on his bumper- the road turns immediately to the left and dead-ends. the bad guy swings it wildly to the left, i skid around the corner behind him, and he plows into a dumpster in the closed-off area behind a building, i screech to a halt, blocking the exit. he jumps out of his car, i do too. i get a look at my ride, it's a large mid-70s sedan, looks like a cross between a Monte Carlo and a Cadillac.

next thing i know the bad guy's on the ground, and i'm on top of him with my knee in his collarbone. i've got a handful of the hair on the top of his head in my right hand, and my left hand balled up in a fist. he's not struggling. i release the hair. there's no doubt in my mind i can pound him at will. Reginald The Cop arrives on the scene in his car, followed by Christina Ricci in hers (evidently she's old enough to drive?). the whole back lot of this place is bathed in yellow-green sodium-vapor industrial lighting. Reginald convinces me to let the guy up; i stifle the urge to smack the bad guy's head against the pavement and i stand up, leaving him on the ground. Reginald packs him into his car, as Ricci does something with the trunk of her car. they exchange words, and she gets in Reginald's car and they drive off. that's when i notice there's a blonde girl on the scene, with her own car, a red, late 70s Mustang convertible.

she's a pretty girl with blonde, curly, shoulder-length hair, dressed in a very 80s fashion, including a red blazer. we leave together.

suddenly the two of us are driving on a bright sunny day, through what i took for Emerald Hills in Edmonds, though the streets were somewhat different. she's wondering which way to go, and paying surprisingly little attention to the actual task of driving. she's so relaxed she's slumped far down in the seat, so far that i wonder how she can see the road. she's leaning toward me in the passenger seat, and she asks me which way to go. we're at a 5-way intersection (that doesn't exist in Emerald Hills) and i can see a short bridge leading toward "town" (i can see the sign of a Burger King), as well as a few other directions we could turn. i'm not exactly sure where we're headed, and a bit unsure of exactly how to proceed, so i pick the next street to the right of the bridge, and we take it. it leads to a place that's a direct mix between the ferry-terminal/Main Street/Sunset Beach intersection in Edmonds (as it existed before they rebuilt the ferry terminal) and the Marina area of South Lake Union in Seattle, but it's located in downtown Edmonds. the road i chose merges onto a roundabout around a fountain (which isn't really there), and we drive along. as we reach the far side, she comes perilously close to hitting a police car, but the cop doesn't seem to notice, or mind. we take a right turn and start heading up the hill toward the shops along the main drag. she seems to be getting worse at driving, at one point nearly driving into the corner of a building, which i prevent by grabbing the wheel and steering us back on the road. i ask her if she wants me to drive. she declines, but sits up and seems to take the driving a bit more seriously.

suddenly we're walking together, at night again, in a deserted building that could be a museum, or an art gallery...something like that. the lights are all off and it's dead quiet, the place is obviously closed. (it reminds me, now, of something out of a John Hughes movie.)  the brightest thing in the room is one of those long wave-making machines behind plexiglass, which is internally lit and has food-coloring-blue water in it, and is turned on and working. it takes up a whole long wall of a large room. we're just strolling along it, talking. at the far end of the room we come to a passage that's sort of a narrow, zig-zaggy hallway. the entrance is a few feet off the floor, and we have to climb up into it to walk down it. it takes random twists and turns, and is lit by overhead lights at odd intervals, so that our path alternates between light and darkness. periodically there are alcoves off to the sides, with things i'm not noticing in them; i'm involved in the conversation- or maybe more precisely involved in having the conversation with the girl, since i can't remember what we talked about. at one point one of the alcoves ahead is basically a bathtub, filled with water, with a young woman giggling softly in it, and a young man climbing into it. my companion and i find this amusing and try to pass as unobtrusively as possible. we soon exit the far side of the passage, into something that reminds me of a mall. i cross the ground to the girl, who strikes me as unpretentious and is incredibly lovely. i put my arms around her and touch my forehead to hers, and we stand there silently for a few moments, then she pushes me away.

she tells me i don't understand, and parts her blazer with her hands, placing them on her stomach. she's wearing a loose-fitting green knit top, but she pushes it down onto her stomach as she's speaking, and as she does, i notice her slight belly-bulge- she's pregnant. she's obviously into me, and she's tearing up, upset about telling me this, thinking i'm going to react badly. she turns away and walks toward a wall, putting her forehead against it and starting to cry softly. i close the distance, put my arm around her back, and she does the classic, wordless "i don't want you to touch me or see me like this but i really do need to be comforted" thing. i ask her how far along she is, and she tells me almost 12 weeks. (it occurs to me now that i have no idea how pregnant a girl looks at 12 weeks, and if what just occured is even possible.)

CUT to a new scene. i'm with the same girl, but it's all changed. we're making out on a desk in a home-office of some house, and everything's happening more quickly, the overall tone is more fast-paced and comedic. i'm on my back and she's lying on me. the place is a mess, all unorganized, loose papers everywhere. we seem to be messing it up even more. Christina Ricci is suddenly back; she walks in and pulls something from a file cabinet adjacent to the desk we're using, dead-panning some particularly sardonic comment (which i don't catch) in a typically Ricci-esque manner, then she's gone. soon my blonde friend jumps up, upset with me for something. her clothes are different- evidently some time has passed- and i have no idea what the hell is going on; i'm still surprised to find myself in this new scene. she says something to me, somewhat bitterly, and leaves the room. i hop down off the desk and follow her. she turns to me in the next room and says, "i saw you take the shoes." (...ok...?)  i gather that our behavior (both of ours) has become more and more crazy and random over time, and she tells me that she saw me surreptitiously exchange my somewhat-worn pair of sneakers for an identical pair that looked brand new (somewhere previously) which didn't belong to me. i don't remember doing this, but i don't think she's wrong, and i don't argue. i'm a little ashamed of myself. she's very upset by my actions and she's about to leave.

CUT to a new scene. i'm in a large hall, resembling a huge gymnasium. Barack Obama is onstage to my right, giving some kind of pep rally, and the place is packed. the house lights are down. i'm alone, wandering around the floor, looking around. mostly people are paying attention to the stage; no one notices me and i don't feel out of place. there's music playing. on the far side of the gymnasium are bleachers, also packed. i decide to make my way up there and find a seat toward the top/back. as i'm nearing the very top, approaching a section that's mostly black people, dressed in shiny, choir-esque robes in different pastel colors, with leis of yellow flowers around their necks, they all suddenly stand up, and start to crowd surf some guy down the bleachers. i get caught up in this- i'm lifted off my feet- the crowd around the whole place notices what's happening in the bleachers, and they start to react in a panic- and at the exact moment that i'm (VERY quickly) crowd surfed down the bleachers (which was fun!), Barack's voice booms over the P.A.: "STOP! it's alright!"...and evidently it's part of the show. everyone relaxes and takes their seats again. i'm back down on the floor. some music starts up, some sort of crossover contemporary pop/R&B thing, and there's suddenly room on the floor for dancing. the couples are doing some wierd, choreographed square-dance/waltz-type hybrid thing, and nearly every couple is an older middle-aged person dancing with a pre-teen kid.  low-rent disco lights, like something out of a high school dance, make multi-colored spots revolve around the room, playing across the dancers and everything else. i'm conspicuously alone and uninvolved, in the middle of the dancing, so i'm trying to get out of everyone's way. i finally manage to get to the edge of the floor, and take up a position at the end of the bleachers, where i lean against the end of a railing, and turn to watch the crowd for a moment.

i hear a voice address me, and turn back around to see my blonde female companion sitting alone at a table right behind me. she seems interested to see me, and i approach her and we start to talk. this seems disconnected from part of my dream in which she was upset with me; as if everything before happened long enough in the past that it doesn't matter anymore. she mentions her new dog, which she calls, and it approaches us from the shadows of a nearby corner. it's a tan-coated puppy, and really playful, all bounce and wagging tail and puppy teeth. i kneel down and play with it while we're talking, putting my hand in its mouth, grabbing it's teeth, etc.  i glance up toward the stage, which i can now see from the side.  Obama's standing on the floor of the auditorium, about 20 feet from me, busting out some really smooth, flamboyant dance moves with a little kid.  he's wearing a blue button-up shirt.  i'm surprised he's got moves like that.  then i'm distracted by the puppy, and the conversation with the girl, and i look out at the floor, which is clearing of dancers, as the music stops.  Obama's once more obscured by the speakers at the edge of the stage, but i hear him introducing "a fine young musician" from somewhere blah blah.  the musician is a teenage boy at the far edge of the hall, spotlit.  there are a few other musicians; drums, bass, etc.  the boy's seated on a chair, and he starts into an acoustic rendition of some Goo Goo dolls song (at least that's what it seems like at the time to me- i couldn't place the song), singing and playing guitar. he's interesting enough to hold my attention for a bit, and he segues from acoustic into an electrified arrangement that's spontaneous and dynamic and loose and struck me me as far better than anything the Goo Goo dolls would have done. i'm still talking with my blonde friend when the arrangement goes electric, and i look up to see him standing, winging it on a Strat.

and suddenly i'm awake, and (as always) really grateful to remember the whole thing (which can never happen often enough to suit me), and feeling like i ought to write it down. and now i have.



one more DST thing

that link will only allow you to download and install the patch if you're using Internet Explorer 5 or a more current version.  Google Chrome doesn't work.

daylight savings time XP glitch

for weeks i've been having intermittent computer issues, some of which are crashes or hard reboots.  i keep getting these little micro-blackouts which are noticeable because the lights flicker as the power fluctuates, and i think there have been even more frequent micro-brownouts.
annoying as all that is- i've lost some work and not a small amount of time over them- maybe the most annoying part of it all has been my computer clock.  every time the computer's crashed, it resets my time back to pre-daylight savings time.
i didn't initially notice that my synchronization to DST wasn't happening automatically; i play with the clock so little that when i realized the time hadn't changed on March 8th, i just knocked it forward an hour and forgot about it.  but after it reset BACKWARDS an hour on its own a couple times, and i set if forward again manually, i realized that something was wrong.  i checked the settings; tried toggling them back and forth, using different time servers.  nothing worked except a manual adjustment.
i have XP SP2 on this machine, and have it set to automatically update my clock and to synchronize with daylight savings.  why wasn't it working right?!
turns out the rules for when we switch over to DST changed a while back, and the version of XP i'm running doesn't have the patch, so it's working off the old rules.  in case anyone else is experiencing the same problem (and i bet a lot of people who don't have system-wide Automatic Updates enabled, and have their computer clocks set to automatically update and synchronize are), here's where you get the fix:
seems like it would be a good idea for programs that are trying to work within a set of rules which are determined by an outside source, and subject to change, to refer to some online data that tells them what the current rule-set is and how to behave.  that eliminates the need for any future software updates to address the fix(es).
enabled system-wide Automatic Updates probably fixed this for most people...i've been a bit sloppy with the updates, what with juggling computers and all.

wouldn't it seem to make sense

that buses ran North/South along highway 9?

Monday my car finally went in the shop to take care of the hit-and-attempted-run damage from last Halloween. having failed to get my truck started by the designated drop-off time, i elected to rent a car. it's taking a bit longer to finish fixing my Escape than anticipated (hopefully it will be done this afternoon), but i decided, rather than pay an extra day's rental on the rental car, i'd just return it as planned.

i planned on taking the bus back here, and looked up the routes. the closest route to get me from the body shop in Snohomish back home (about 7 miles away, i think) requires riding into Everett's park & ride / train station commuter complex, waiting half an hour or so, and transferring to another bus that runs between there and Granite Falls via Lake Stevens, a trip of around an hour and a half. this still requires walking about 1/2 a mile to the bus stop in Snohomish (from the body shop) and another mile from the closest stop to my house, about 1.5 miles total, or around 20-25 minutes, depending on how fast you walk, for a grand total of about 2 hrs for what would be a 7 mile trip by the most direct route.

i forgot to grab any small change before i left (a pretty dumb but easily made mistake for someone who pays for 95% of everything with a card and never takes the bus), and it wasn't raining, so i started walking it.

along the way a Good Samaritan stopped and offered me a ride up Hwy 9. i wasn't hitching, just walking. he drove me about a mile and a half, maybe 2 miles of the total distance. my entire trip back from the car rental place took about an hour and 20 minutes. in the absence of my Samaritan friend, you could tack about half an hour onto my trip.

conclusion: if you need to get from Snohomish to Lake Stevens, you'll get there in almost exactly the same time walking as you will riding the bus. making the same trip by car (via the direct route i walked) takes about 10 minutes total, and costs about the same in gas as the bus, or less, depending on what you drive. probably a bit less in my case.

this is a pretty textbook example of why public transit- as implemented around here- cannot substitute for a vehicle. the longer the round-trip, and the less far-flung the two ends of it are, and the less bizarre the times of day you need to be in those places, and the more notice you have of needing to go, the more public transit makes sense. but if you live in my world, there's always something coming up, often without much warning. the time of day the trips need to happen are often bizarre or arbitrary or subject to change on a moment's notice, or unable to be determined in advance. the destinations are all over the map, often in places there IS no public transit. trying to manage a system that served all those needs is impossible.

unless things get a lot less complicated, private transportation is here to stay- even if the world goes totally post-industrial, and people have to go back to riding horses and donkeys.

time to get something done. PEACE


so i got fed up, dealing with comcast

their Personal Web Pages is a ridiculously unwieldy tool for publishing content to the web, so i've avoided it like the plague for years. in their somewhat admirable effort to make their users' files (stored online) more secure, they've managed to make their site increasingly unusable. so, to hell with them. not sure why anyone would want to store files they need secure online in the first place, but that's enough processor clock cycles on that particular issue.

i've switched hosting duties for my blog to Blogger's own site, in order to allow my posts to ACTUALLY be pushed to facebook when they're published. that's a dubiously worthy achievement, considering the frequency at which i've been posting; but...i've been meaning to post more often for a long time, and once the ice is broken... i definitely shattered it with my last overly-voluminous post.

to quote one of my favorite characters, from one of my favorite movies:
"so....there it is."


artificial inflation

i recently read this old post from my friend Tami's blog, in which she touched on populist opinion running both in favor of preserving UAW workers' salaries, and against the executive compensation packages at companies involved in the recent bailouts, and how it smacks a little of wage/class envy. i think she's right, and i started to comment on it...and before long i realized i was writing a book. most of the following marathon of keyboard calisthenics has been building for a while now, but she deserves credit for the spur. i encourage you to read her post first, as she's more talented at this (and generally more interesting) than i am, and since this post began as a comment on her post, it probably works better with the segue than it does on its own. feel free to click away, i can wait...

see? i'm still here.

as i was saying, rather than post this indulgently wordy manuscript as a comment, which would be somewhat bad form, as her post is fairly old and this rambling diatribe is ridiculously lengthy for that format, i posted here, simultaneously contributing to my cobweb-covered blog (which will no doubt amaze and/or horrify both of my long-neglected readers), and exploiting the convenient push to facebook, where excessively careless f-bookers might accidently click the link, fail to recognize their error, and start reading.

it's a given that 90% of those unlucky, click-stumbling accidental readers have, by now, navigated expeditiously away, but the remaining 10% may have gamely pulled on their galoshes, wading in further. of those, i estimate 50% will soon give up their well-intentioned self-delusion of interest and move on to something entirely more satisfying. i hereby absolve the aforementioned 95% of all Guilt, and bid you/them a fond farewell (pre/post-exit as appropriate).

extensive privately-funded (uncorroborated) laboratory studies show that 50-75% of both the remaining errant facebook clickers and prior-inf-blog-readers will fall gratefully asleep long before reaching the end of this post, and to those i hasten to express my sincere gratitude for the attempt, and wish the very sweetest of pleasant dreams. if they could put me in a bottle, i would be quickly rushed through FDA trials, as i'm an amazingly effective sleep-aid, and profoundly non-habit-forming.

that leaves maybe 1 or 2 people with a reasonable chance of making it to the finish line. depressing as that may be, this does not deter a True Wordsmith (or, for that matter, people like me). if you're one of the intrepid finishers, this post is Especially for You.

(commemorative trinkets available for a nominal fee in the Finisher's Circle, all proceeds benefitting the nonprofit National Organization of Disenfranchised Investment Counseling Experts, aka "NO DICE".)

for You (Especially) i begin the actual post, again:

there was a time in this country when labor unions were absolutely necessary but, for the most part, that time's passed. the labor laws and labor market conditions in general, not to mention organizations such as the National Labor Relations Board and OSHA, state depts. for workers (Labor & Industries in WA), etc., have long since addressed the majority of issues the unions were formed to deal with, and by and large, unions now function primarily as redundant systems for these formerly union-exclusive areas, and exist as collective bargaining systems and self-perpetuating fundraisers.

i've held union construction jobs, and have a reasonable degree of experience working with and/or supervising union workers (in the entertainment industry), and it's my experience that, as a rule, the majority of union employees are overpaid for their skills and effort and routinely need and expect a lot more coddling. it generally requires more of them to accomplish anything, and they have an overwhelming tendency to Whine and be a Pain in the Ass. as with all rules, there are exceptions, and i speak from my own experience (individual results may vary).

furthermore, during my own union employment, with Local #292, Everett, WA, i've been in a position to require their advocacy and they did not/could not/would not effectively resolve my issues. the union's attempt at advocacy was wholly half-hearted to begin with, their representative was unreliable, and i was forced to seek outside help. the National Labor Relations Board took my case for free, immediately consulted with me, gathered detailed information, and pursued my claim for months, ultimately resulting in my day in court. the details of my case aren't important; let it suffice to say the union didn't earn their money, and the federal gov't was there to pick up their slack anyway, and i began to form my current opinions.

in terms of the UAW: absolutely its members should earn compensation somewhat commensurate with others in similar industries, but the vast majority of them will do whatever is in their own immediate financial best interest, which means perpetuating the union stranglehold on the Big Three, and collectively swamping their own boats. as long as the federal gov't is demanding others jump in to man the buckets, why should they abandon the heavily-listing Detroit? why would investors?

[cue "disgusting sucking noise" and "faint human female shrieking noises", intended to conjure mental image of 1950s-B-movie-style Giant Leech]

this is also true of the (decidedly non-union) financial sector companies benefiting from the ludicrously bloated bailout fiasco.

[end sound effects]

the "little guy" at the bottom end of the U.S. economic food chain (others like me) is probably going to disagree with me about the UAW, but they're all wrong, and i'm right: workers cannot continually take more from a company than it can afford to spend, and remain employed, without an endless supply of injected capital. the marketplace cannot infinitely expand to supply that capital, and there's no justifiable reason to place that burden on the public at large.

the exorbitant executive salaries at the tops of these and similar pyramids- morally offensive to many, and not unjustifiably so- don't equate to any significant increase in the average pay of a pool of workers that large, or to the value of individual shareholder earnings, nor do they significantly impact the profit margins of the companies or the price of the goods they produce. though there are exceptions, most companies that set labor policy without collective bargaining agreements do a fair job of creating shareholder value, and a pretty fair job of compensating their employees. conversely, despite and (partially) because employee compensation at UAW plants is artificially inflated, Detroit is generally unable to create shareholder value. an unsustainable level of wages, health care costs and retirement benefits (in no particular order) is the biggest problem in Detroit. the other is mismanagement.

the people making the decisions there haven't made products attractive enough to the marketplace, or made them efficiently enough, or marketed them well enough to support themselves as currently organized. to quote my friend, and use one of my son's favored terms: EPIC FAIL. propping up companies that fail epically, perpetuating artificially inflated compensation packages and shareholder earnings, is the corporate equivalent of non-results-oriented sports [shudder], and should be relegated to things like lemonade stands. are we really so desperate for mismanaged companies to exist that we should go to ANY lengths to perpetuate them? i don't think so. if they dried up and blew away, all the hungry-to-reproduce investment capital will seek out new, feasible opportunities, and eventually those businesses will need employees, and everything will balance out.

the UAW may finally be acknowledging the unsustainability of their previous agreements, as evidenced by recent changes in contracts with Ford and GM, in which the union assumes responsibility for large portions of workers' benefits packages. it will be interesting to see how that plays out in the long term.

it's arguable that the most exclusively talented people (i.e. top executives) should be paid a lot more than entry-level workers. assemblers shouldn't make as much as machine operators, machine operators shouldn't be paid as much as machinists, machinists shouldn't be compensated like engineers, etc. it's perfectly reasonable that the more responsibility you hold for an organization's success, the more you should be compensated. it's also therefore reasonable that the most responsible people be held the most accountable for performance. people who run companies into the ground should not leave with huge bonuses. companies that extend wildly lucrative offers to entice superstar executives without tying those contracts to performance are Stupid, and taxpayers shouldn't be strongarmed into paying for them.

the kind of twisted logic in which that's acceptable equates to raising the price of admission at the zoo to cover the medical bills/funeral services of people who jump into the tiger cage. "what? that's ridiculous! the sign's on the 15-foot bars of the cage! it says 'caveat emptor' in 3 languages, and there are little pictograms for people who can't read! there's a 20-foot wide moat! and they told everyone at the door, and it's printed on the back of the ticket!"

maybe they should forego the other measures, and show patrons the video of the tigers eating the last guy.

there's a lot more unaccountability at the tops of these corporate pyramids than at the bottom. i suspect it's because the people who make the decisions are the ones at the top of the pyramid. (no, i'm not a rocket scientist, i just play one online.) how long does Mary Assemblyline last if she holds up the line? about 5 minutes. her Golden Parachute is an empathetic manager who makes sure the door doesn't strike her in the behind on the way out. (OK, he's also minimizing the company's exposure to litigation.) the lack of accountability at the top is a real problem- and it's their problem, not yours and mine.

it's no mystery why the politicians aren't hearing the masses gathered around the bases of these pyramids. the pyramids are staggeringly tall and steep-walled, and their offices are at the very top. the mosh-pit of suits present are tripping and climbing over each other, scrambling for position, screaming at the top of their lungs, pointing fingers at each other, and slapping their IOUs down on the desk.

i'm running off on a tangent. (unless you're new to this blog, you're used to that by now.)

in Detroit's case, the UAW has been the biggest problem. those workers' wages and benefits have been artificially inflated over decades. i think everyone knows this, including the UAW and its members- but the members don't want to hear it. picture kids with their hands over their ears, eyes clamped shut: "NANANANANA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" but the fact is actually OBVIOUS: those workers can't go find a comparable job in another industry for anywhere near the same money, or with anywhere near the same level of benefits, or some combination of those. this is a testament to the effectiveness of collective bargaining, but it's also an indictment of the possible end results. (the prosecution rests.) the workers aren't going to willingly let go of their jobs, or their artificially inflated compensation packages, or the union that secures them. i believe something similar is happening in the majority of longstanding collective bargaining situations, but the UAW, in my mind, is the poster child of artificial wage inflation.

artificial inflation is rampant everywhere, from health care (and insurance costs in general) to union and government wages to commodities and housing markets to protectionist industrial and monetary policies, professional sports complexes and on and on. speculation in the marketplace (by fat cats who can't get fat enough) and collective bargaining agreements (by alley cats with sharp teeth and claws, who got fat representing scrawny stray kittens, and stay fat representing pretty-well-fed housecats) and government subsidies and selectively-favorable policies (by fat cats elected and influenced by other fat cats) push values of certain things too far up, and eventually the bubbles must burst. they were never sustainable to begin with; they weren't based on anything real. it's all, to quote another pretty fat cat, "irrational exuberance".

when it falls apart, a whole bunch of people lose their shirts. we're getting the Grand Mal lesson in seizure of property right now, a very expensive primer on how much the fattest cats hate to go shirtless, even if it means taking the shirts off everyone else's backs. more fat cats pontificate passionately and pound the pulpit in Righteous Indignation, and while we're lulled listless by their loquacity, or scared silly by the sermon, they're skillfully- with practiced hand- removing our shirts and handing them over, freshly pressed, in boxes with pretty bows. they're gifts, alright...but don't expect a thank-you card.

the problem for taxpayers is NOT that this bank or that huge insurance company fails, or that any particular piece of "real" estate "lost" half its "value" overnight; it's that the value these things were (mis)construed to hold was artificially inflated in the first place, even willfully misrepresented in the most blatant cases, and that these misconceptions were reinforced, even encouraged, by policies that made these values SEEM reasonable, and that this was true for a long enough period of time to ensure that almost everyone everywhere has some amount of exposure to the risk.

that's enough to make some people believe in conspiracy theories...but not me. i don't think anyone's got enough intelligence. there are too many competing agendas and players for anyone to manipulate events that deftly. i'm convinced that more harm is done by combinations of ordinary greed, shortsightedness, failure to learn from mistakes, and (most of all) misguided faith in the ability of individuals to fully comprehend- and by extension, organizations to effectively manage- complex systems (read: hubris) than by your garden-variety Evildoers.

i give you, by way of example, weathermen. people have been studying the weather for untold years, and increasingly complex and comprehensive observation, analysis, statistic gathering, variable quantification, and computer modeling still can't accurately predict what's going to happen. they can make some very educated guesses- but they're still guessing, and they're still wrong a LOT. full-scale economies are the financial equivalent of weather, and economists are like photogenically-challenged weathermen- except the weathermen freely admit when they're wrong a lot of the time. people used to own barometers, and pay enough attention to the world around them that they could make their own educated guesses what the weather was going to do today. not anymore. that's what weathermen are for. it's a pretty good system, but don't bet the house on it.

if Detroit needs to die to fix Detroit, i say, "so be it." if AIG needs to die, RIP. there is no fixing some things. in many cases (in language Detroit can understand) they're totalled. they're zombie corporations, the fiscal living dead, and they want to eat your brain. all these failed companies are going to be sold off at a loss eventually, and all the stakeholders involved are going to suffer anyway, and no matter what, a bunch of other people (and many of the same people that lost money) are going to make a lot of money in the long run from their failure. if we're collectively smart and careful enough, they won't create as much artificial money next time around.

surely, allowing the hands-off failure of overgrown financial institutions would have huge, unforeseen consequences, and yes, those consequences would impact millions, but how is that any different than what's already happening? at least if these companies are allowed to fail, people might start to learn from their mistakes. is anyone really smart enough or qualified enough to orchestrate a significantly less destructive failure? the "experts" are grasping at straws. economists certainly don't agree on things- except that the sky is falling. maybe everyone just needs to completely lose their ass, so we can collectively get a re-education in the meaning of "risk".

no single person, no organization can fully comprehend the unfathomably convoluted machinations of the global economy. it's just too big, and too complicated. policies which attempt to address these problems at too large a scale are inherently doomed to failure, because they have consequences even their architects don't understand.

i suggest we therefore step back a bit, and begin by addressing how money unduly influences the political process. it's the wellspring of a whole river of other problems.

(looking down, the Author realizes his equine companion has long since ceased respiration, and abandons the lash, continuing afoot.)

along those lines of thought, imagine what the average American workers' pay would be if we had to compete industrially in a completely free global market. there are reasons people are flowing inexorably north from Mexico by the thousands, and immigrating to the U.S. from every corner of the world (in numbers unequalled anywhere, at any point in history): there's more opportunity here. why? partly because of artificial controls that insulate America from the global economy. we're not alone in this; to some extent, all the industrialized countries in the world are guilty of Protectionism. the P-word is another way of saying 'artificial inflation'. if some of those controls didn't exist, the already huge numbers of immigrants would be astronomical, and if others weren't, the discrepancy of conditions that causes the influx of (artificially-inflated-wage-killing) cheap labor in the first place would diminish. jobs go overseas because in those places, less is more. less is more overseas because the jobs are all over here. when sufficiently capitalized countries make infrastructure investments in less-developed markets, they make a lot of money, quickly.

if you're going to re-tool your widget factory, why do it in the U.S. labor market, when there's Indonesia, Taiwan, China, Bangladesh, Turkey....? Iceland's national power company Landsvirkjun recently made huge investments increasing hydroelectric power capacity, to entice struggling American aluminum company ALCOA to build a massive smelting plant. ALCOA has considered building a 2nd smelter there as well. all things being equal, it's simply good business for developing or struggling economies to collaborate with industries struggling to survive in the most industrialized countries. (Environmental arguments aside, that's a different, if related subject.)

in my opinion, the existence of truly open, free global markets is the human rights issue of our time. there are literally hundreds of millions of people the world over who will gladly work at least as hard as the average American, for far less than any American workers will at the same job. even living here, they still work for less, meeting the same types of financial obligations you and i do. the only argument anyone can make to restrict immigration is that this depresses wages in U.S. labor markets. (incidentally, increasing legal immigration and cracking down employers exploiting illegal immigrants mitigates that effect to some degree.) the immigrants' standard of "a good living" is just much, much lower than ours. our whole idea of what constitutes "a good living" is artificially inflated, because we're insulated from the types of challenges the majority of the developing world faces. for the fattest cats among us, that standard is an order of magnitude or so higher, but it's the same thing, isn't it?

damned if Joe Sixpack will willingly give up his seat at the nice, clean table so some faceless untouchable scrabbling for existence in a muddy hovel somewhere can belly up. damned if Joseph Reginald Fatcat III, Esquire will willingly give up the Kobe prime rib and the private plane for the occasional dinner at Olive Garden and a Kia.

this speaks to us all, as individuals, and how we act collectively. a "higher" moral standard, or an elevated standard of what constitutes basic human entitlement (i.e. posturing like i've been throwing out for paragraphs now) doesn't necessarily preclude acting in our own self-interest, but they're not exactly complementary philosophies.

where's the balance, then? that's the $1M question.

i submit we should try not frown too much as the latecomers file into the cafeteria, that we make as much room as possible at our tables, and that setting up some picnic benches outside will probably be necessary; that to the extent we're able- without taking too much food off our own plates, or failing to feed our own children- we should let as many people as possible come to the buffet; that we collectively keep an eye on the biggest bullies stealing food off other plates, and send them to the back of the line; that we try not to let our eyes grow too much bigger than our stomachs.

when everyone's better fed, there'll be plenty of help with the cooking, and eventually we can build more and bigger cafeterias.

that was my Kum Ba Yah moment. i don't have a whole lot of them, so it's equivalent to, say, seeing a shooting star, or buying a winning scratch ticket.

i'm not preaching here; i'm as guilty as anyone else of looking out for myself and my own. it's what we do here; there's nothing wrong with self-interest. but forgive me for not spending much time lamenting the loss of American jobs to people who watch their children starve and have no shot at an education, and for my failure to cry long over the crash of artificially inflated wages or stock values, or the demise of companies that slit their own throats, or for people who bought $1M+ houses on $60-$80K incomes. too many of the people who are yelling the loudest right now invested and doubled down and frantically overextended themselves trying to parlay their artificial profits into the Motherlode.

we should be identifying with lower-middle class people who've lived within their means their whole lives but lost their retirement money in investments that were deemed safe by "experts"; with people who showed up every day and worked hard at their jobs but lost them anyway. we should be holding the companies and people that negligently gambled away other people's money on absurdly complex financial instruments accountable. they've unapolegetically made BILLIONS for their investors over the years, and just as they were legitimately entitled to their profit, they're absolutely responsible for their own losses. we should be concerned with pulling licenses of companies and prosecuting sharks who lied about the terms of mortgages (a far smaller group than might be indicated by the clamor of people upside-down in their properties). we should be far more eager to show all these incompetent "experts" the door, and carefully supervise the next crop of (hopefully actual) talent while they cautiously try to fix things. we should be Meaningfully Reforming the regulatory agencies that fell down on the job, and we should be taking stock of the names of politicians responsible for their oversight and booting them out of office ASAP.

(all Faithful Readers have hereby proven themselves Fully Worthy, and are coming around the bend now. sprint to the finish!)

recently unemployed though i may be, and broke as i definitely am (i lost about 1/3 of my only savings, a 401k probably worth less to begin with than most), if i don't do something pretty soon i'm going to lose a lot more than that. but i still can't seem to summon up a full head of self-pity. i'm typing this on a computer, in a heated house, with a well-fed animal that i have no intention of eating lying contentedly under my chair. i can go take a shower, and there's some (admittedly unremarkable) food around. i even have some beer left in the fridge. i will eventually get hired somewhere, and depending on where that is i may have to give up some things. if that happens...i'm not going to step in front of a train.

a long time ago i spent a large portion of time, including a very cold winter, living in a 1-room warehouse with no heat, no running water, no toilet, no way to cook food. i was lucky: i had a $300 car that lasted me a year, and usually a couple gallons of gas in the tank, and a couple places i could go to take a shower. i've also spent a lot of time working graveyard shifts in downtown Seattle in the winter, watching frozen homeless people shuffling from trash can to trash can, wearing every filthy stitch of anything they could get their hands on, while i decorated 60-foot trees with pretty lights, all the way to the top, so people would be encouraged to come spend money.

things could be a lot worse here, for me, and in general. we should try to remember to count our blessings; fat cats, auto workers, market players, homeowners and taxpayers all. a little less-artificially-inflated sense of entitlement can serve us all well.

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