Friday, June 29, 2012

Question Regarding The Individual Mandate

Sincere question: what, if anything, is the substantial, qualitative difference between the loathsome right-wing argument "We must raise taxes on the poor; the national debt crisis exists because minimum-wage workers aren't paying their fair share" and the new pro-mandate argument "We must charge insurance premiums to underemployed 20-somethings; the healthcare crisis exists because broke young adults aren't paying their fair share?"

Thursday, June 28, 2012


The Supreme Court has ruled to uphold the individual mandate aspect of Obamacare -- the one aspect of it I found most troubling, as I don't think "lack of health insurance" should become a matter for law enforcement to handle.

I've heard justifications for the argument that boil down to "just in case" -- we must force healthy 20-somethings to buy private health insurance (or be fined) just in case they later get sick and cost taxpayers money. So, then, wouldn't it be just as justifiable to force poor pre-menopausal women to buy birth control (or be fined) just in case they later have a baby they can't afford, and cost taxpayers money? Force the low-income obese to lose weight (or pay a fine) just in case they develop diabetes on the taxpayers' dime?

This all sounds asinine, I know, but so does the idea that it's illegal for a farmer to grow his own wheat to feed to his own livestock. But -- as I pointed out last March -- I'm certain the bureaucrats charged with enforcing compliance will act with all the compassion and humanity that has made the American government so universally beloved and admired, these past ten years and more.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

TSA: An Empathy-Free Zone

Yesterday I shared with you the appalling story of John Gross, who was flying out of Orlando with a clearly labeled funerary urn filled with his grandfather's cremains. A nameless TSAgent chose to open the urn, stir its contents with her finger, spill them onto the floor, then laugh at Gross' anguished attempts to collect them.

TSA: even being dead and cremated won't keep us from molesting you. Still, in the grand scheme of TSA crimes, this one was relatively minor: disrespecting the dead -- and adding to the anguish of a grieving grandson -- still isn't quite as bad as sexually molesting the living, or training little kids to believe "Letting strangers see me naked or feel me up is a prerequisite for travel." (I still say this to all parents: if you're going to make your kids fly under TSA's aegis, just cut the crap and outright raise them to be strippers or prostitutes when they grow up. After all, if they're going to spend their lives having strangers look at or fondle their private parts, they may as well make a little money in the process.) 

Anyway, on my post yesterday a commenter going by the moniker "21st Century Dad" shared this story:
My last interaction with the TSA at the airport a couple of months ago while flying to FL. I opt out of the porno picture device and go for the grope. I put my things on the conveyor and I'm instructed to go get groped. I'm getting ready for some groping action as a giant Samoan TSA agent approaches me and says, "What side is your stuff on?" I thought to myself, How considerate of him, as I point to the left side of my crotch. He looks at me funny and restates, "No, no what side are your belongings on...the left or right conveyor?" OOHH, I get it, I'm the dumbass, right? Thanks TSA.
Sounds like standard TSA lack of empathy. I'm guessing the agent's thought process went something like this: "That man is waiting to be groped. I, however, am thinking about where on the conveyor his bags are. I expect the man to know exactly what I am thinking because I, a typical TSA agent, lack the insight necessary to understand that 'telepathy' exists only in science fiction stories."

In other words, understanding things like "Another human being cannot know what I am thinking unless I choose to tell him" requires a level of empathy -- putting yourself in the other person's shoes (before TSA forces him to remove them, at least), imagining what it is like to BE that person -- but if TSAgents had that level of empathy, they wouldn't be molesting people in the first damned place. And when they dumped a man's cremated remains on the filthy floor of an airport terminal, they'd find it horrifying rather than humorous. If they had any empathy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

TSA: Spilling Grandpa's Ashes All Over The Constitution

This just in: TSA is so determined to molest innocent Americans, even being dead and cremated isn't enough to protect us.

The minimum starting salary for TSAgents is $8.21 an hour ($17,083 per year divided by 2,080 hours, or fifty-two forty-hour weeks). The McDonald's near my old house in Connecticut offered a higher starting wage than that, but it also required a high school diploma where the TSA does not.

That's who's molesting you and your kids when you're fool enough to go to the airport these days: people who lack the educational qualifications to pursue a more lucrative career in the field of burger-flipping, and the moral qualifications to make them refrain from acts of sexual assault.

Once you understand "These people are literally too stupid to work in fast food" (let alone grok the difference between sound and radio waves), their behavior becomes far less baffling. Consider the nameless TSAgent in this story (they're always nameless agents, because if you know people's names you can hold them accountable, and accountability violates every principle TSA holds dear), who opened a crematory urn, spilled human remains on the floor and laughed at the anguished relative who tried to sweep them up:
John Gross, a resident of Indianapolis' south side, was leaving Florida with the remains of his grandfather -- Mario Mark Marcaletti, a Sicilian immigrant who worked for the Penn Central Railroad in central Indiana -- in a tightly sealed jar marked "Human Remains."

Gross said he didn't think he'd have a problem, until he ran into a TSA agent at the Orlando airport.

"They opened up my bag, and I told them, 'Please, be careful. These are my grandpa's ashes,'" Gross told RTV6's Norman Cox.

"She picked up the jar. She opened it up. I was told later on that she had no right to even open it, that they could have used other devices, like an X-ray machine."

This is true, according to TSA "regulations" (scare quotes since agents routinely ignore them). But on with Gross' story:
"So she opened it up. She used her finger and was sifting through it. And then she accidentally spilled it."

Gross says about a quarter to a third of the contents spilled on the floor, leaving him frantically trying to gather up as much as he could while anxious passengers waited behind him.

"She didn't apologize. She started laughing. I was on my hands and knees picking up bone fragments. I couldn't pick up all, everything that was lost. I mean, there was a long line behind me."
Of course she didn't apologize. Gross is lucky she didn't try to sue him. He said he wants an apology from the TSA and the agent herself; I want the woman to be fired and charged with desecrating human remains. I expect we'll both be disappointed. She'll continue to wield authority over her fellow Americans, none of whom will even know her name.

At Least They're Honest About It

I just got back from the DMV, transferring my license, registration and car title from Connecticut to Virginia. I thought that going during weekday business hours would result in a short wait, but I thought wrong: after I filled out my paperwork and got my numbered ticket, it was more than an hour before my number actually came up. This gave me plenty of time to read the posters displayed throughout the DMV office, including one that read "RENEW IN PERSON: PAY $5." Apparently, when it's time to renew your license in Virginia, it's free if you do it online or via the mail, but actually doing it at the DMV will cost you.

Wow. I know that government bureaucracies are fueled primarily by contempt for the public they presumably serve, but -- with the notable exception of the DHS/TSA -- they're rarely so explicit about it: "We hate you so much we can't even stand to look at you, and if you make us do it anyway it'll damned well cost you."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Get The Hell Off My Lawn

I've had responsibility for a lawn for over half a week now, and have decided that when I buy a house, I'm going to uproot every plant on the property, remove three feet of topsoil, replace it with rock salt, top that with a layer of the most toxic herbicide available to ordinary citizens (unless I can score something stronger on the black market), then put a Zen rock garden over it all. Screw having a lawn; I'd rather have a life.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Traipsing Through The Juvenalia

Well, I did it! My entire body is stiff with aspirin-proof soreness, my arms and legs speckled with bruises, my palms covered with blisters ripening into calluses, but all of my tangible material possessions are in my rented Virginia townhouse: my partner and I moved or discarded ten years' worth of accumulated crap in just a little over two weeks, and except for the part where I aged 15 years in 15 days it was totally worth it.

I'm probably on another terrorist watch list due to the vast quantities of poison I've bought these past couple of weeks: the backyard is a veritable antopia, and while I don't mind ants crawling through the dirt I DID mind the ants crawling under the siding or foundations of our house (for fear they'd find a way in). So I bought several cans of Raid, and noticed that each can of insecticide has the words "Johnson: A Family Company" prominently displayed on top. Which is great, because when I buy deadly toxic substances I expect them to reflect solid traditional family values; there will be no illegitimate-bastard poisons in MY household, by Zod.

Speaking of bastards (tho' not necessarily illegitimate ones; I have no idea if his parents were married or not), kudos to the uptight asshole from the HOA who couldn't be bothered to issue my parking pass in a timely manner; thanks to him, my first morning in my new home cost me $150 and a trip to the local towing facility.

But back to the poison: in addition to being family-friendly, each can of Raid claims to smell delicious. You can get lemon-scented poison, ocean breeze poison, forest-glade poison, each option more asinine than the previous one. Look: if I'm spraying insecticide throughout my household and you, my human guest, happen to catch a whiff of it, I do NOT want you to say "My, that smells nice!" and take deep breaths of it; I want you to wrinkle your nose and say "Eeew, that stinks!" so as to avoid inhaling even more. (Unless you work for the TSA, in which case let me remind you that if your house smells funky, Lemon Fresh Raid is a much better option than Febreze. Be sure to keep your doors and windows tightly shut, so none of that fresh-scented goodness can escape.)

A couple of days before leaving Connecticut for good, I experienced mild panic upon realizing "Oh, hell, my bank does not have branches in Virginia; WTF am I to do with my life's savings?" So I quickly opened an account with a certain national bank -- won't say the name for privacy reasons, but it rhymes with "Hell's Cargo" -- which had a branch near my old Connecticut apartment and also near my new Virginia one.

After going down to Virginia, I went to my local Hell's Cargo office to make sure my New England bank check had cleared (it had), and the Hell's Cargo lady tried telling me I absolutely had to sign up for online banking. I told her no thanks; I don't trust online banking for fear of hackers and identity theft.

She assured me Hell's Cargo's databases are extremely secure. "I'm sure they are," I said. "So were the taxpayer databases for the state of Connecticut, and the database for whatever company bought the student loan I'd paid off several years before, yet they still sent me letters warning me to check my credit report because they lost my information. I do not want to do any online banking so that when the Russian Mafia inevitably hacks into my account, I can honestly say 'I have never done any online banking transactions; thus, every one of these is fraudulent'."

But the Hell's Cargo lady insisted I had to sign up for online banking anyway. Under ordinary circumstances I would have argued the point, but that morning I was just too damned tired, what with having spent the past couple weeks as an overburdened pack animal, so I just sighed, slumped my shoulders and said "I hate having to close a bank account that isn't even two weeks old."

That's when the Hell's Cargo lady remembered that online banking isn't mandatory after all. Nor is it mandatory for me to answer her questions regarding what I pay in rent, what I earn in income, where I work or who I work for. (Although, if someone tries to get this information from me next time I go there, I plan to tell them my monthly rent is a hundred dollars and my monthly income fifty. Let their computers chew on that for awhile.)

I'm now in the process of unpacking boxes, and have been finding some horribly embarrassing juvenalia. Apparently I tried writing a musical about Anne Frank, including one song sung to the tune of MacArthur Park (or, more specifically, to the tune of Weird Al Yankovic's parody Jurassic Park). Here's how it starts:

I recall the time the Nazis came into our country
and before long, we were suffering abuse
The fact that we were really good and kind, upstanding people
didn't matter, 'cause they knew that we were Jews.

CHORUS: Dear family, I think we'd better hide
anti-Semitism's running wild
Hitler's starting pogroms up again
I don't think that we can take it
'cause we're Jews and we can't fake it,
and they're gonna try to kill us all again

I have built a hidden Secret Annex
where we'll hide for the duration
with our good friends the Van Daans ...

Methinks me smoked a tad too much Mary Jane back in the day. I wish I had some right now, to make my muscles less sore and unpacking less boring. For now, though, I must get back to work.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Still alive. Still in the process of moving. Still hating myself for going on all those library-sale benders. Recently started humming the riff from Hoarders every time I stumble across another binful of reminders of said benders. Hoping to be firmly established in Virginia and able to resume regular posting by later this week. Doubting I'll be ready for the movers tomorrow. Referring to myself in the present tense, because consideration of any future beyond five minutes is too exhausting.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Continuing Suckitude of Moving

I'm still in the process of packing to move, and I've reached the point where whenever my eye falls upon a can of aerosol hairspray -- a not-infrequent occurrence here in Casa Jennifer -- I think "One lighted match is all I need to make you a flamethrower." Torching the remainder of my worldly possessions would be easier than moving them, only I'm afraid it would annoy my neighbors.

The main problem is that we're moving from an apartment with a huge basement storage facility to an apartment with basically no storage at all, and since we don't want to rent a storage shed or live like the people on "Hoarders," disposing of roughly 60 percent of our possessions (by weight or volume) is our only choice.

We've also decided that, since my partner will be needed a new car pretty soon anyway, he'll maybe get a pickup truck instead. My secret insidious plan to turn my partner, a lifelong New Englander, into a Virginian like me proccedeth apace. Bwa ha ha!

Now back to work.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Moving Dilemmas

While traveling up the east coast yesterday, returning to Connecticut from northern Virginia, I anxiously kept an eye on the western horizon in hopes that the cloud cover would break long enough for me to view the Venus transit. No such luck, though; I had my pair of official NASA sun-gazing glasses, but no access to actual sun.

My partner and I found a nice place to rent. We haven't officially signed the lease yet, because he didn't get his written offer letter from his new employer until this morning, but we're pretty sure the landlord will give us the place. If not, our second-best choice is only $25 a month more. Within a month or less, I'll be living in an exurb of Washington, DC (and yes, I'm well aware of the irony).

I've never hired a moving company before, and I'm actively seeking advice from anyone who knows anything. What should I look for? I've read warnings of scammy movers who will hold your worldly goods hostage until you shell out considerably more money than they originally quoted, but I'm hoping that if I go with a national company, that shouldn't be a problem.

What's considered a "reasonable" price to hire movers who will move a cluttered three-bedroom apartment's worth of stuff from Connecticut to Virginia? I plan to pack the stuff myself, rather than have the movers do it; however, I WOULD like the movers to help move said boxes out of my second-floor apartment.

Also: where the hell does one GET enough cardboard boxes to hold three cluttered bedrooms' worth of stuff? Would these boxes be included in the moving-company fee? Also: what's a proper tip to pay the movers? Assuming decent traffic conditions, it would be a six-hour drive from my old apartment to my new one; would it be a caravan of my car, my partner's car, and the moving van, or is it more likely that the movers would bring my stuff down the next day?

Honestly, I know so little about this, I don't even know the proper questions to ask. Any advice you have to offer would be appreciated.

P.S. I still oppose the creeping totalitarianism of our government, and TSA still sucks. I just don't have time to rant about them right now.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Didn't We WIN Our Revolution?

While flipping through the news channels in my hotel room this morning -- a hotel which, I remind you, is well within the borders of the US of A -- I could not find a single broadcast containing actual "news." All I found was a bunch of undignified gushing over the big, expensive party Britain's throwing to celebrate some inbred frump of a welfare queen's having achieved a whopping 60 years of plush living on the dole. Didn't we fight a revolution so we wouldn't HAVE to care about this crap?

The Guardian reports that the Brits even revived the fine old tradition of serfdom, forcing long-term unemployed to work without pay as stewards for the party. The serfs reportedly were forced to sleep under London Bridge the night before, and went 24 hours without toilet facilities. (The queen's husband, meanwhile, was allowed to use toilet facilities if he pleased, but his royal bladder still came down with an infection. Since he's an aristocrat that presumably means his shit does not stink ... apparently his urine is another matter, though. Damned germs clearly have no respect for titles.)

Monday, June 04, 2012

A Day In Hell's Tenth Circle

I am overtired, overcaffeinated and not sure if I'm kidding when I say "I'm gonna buy a van and live in it, because homelessness beats trudging through yet another rental model in search of a place to live."

One apartment in a luxury complex looked rather nice until the rental agent lady skeeved us out by suddenly switching to hardsell tactics: Great deals! We'll halve the amenities and application fees! NO SECURITY DEPOSIT pending credit approval!! But only if you sign today one day only this deal won't last sign it now NOW NOW NOWNOWNOW!!!
No. I reject on general principles any deal where the seller won't give me a night to sleep on it.

I also encountered my first rental scam: saw a listing for a lovely house with a decent rent, wrote to express interest, guy sent a long email containing one or two correctly spelled words and an ungrammatical explanation of how we'll have to wire-transfer the money to China, where the "owner" is working as a missionary, and he's not interested in money but simply wants a tenant who will take good care of the home and love it as much as he does ... uh huh. Screw you for thinking I have the IQ of rancid mayonnaise, dude. (The actual owner of the home has since been made aware of her Chinese doppelganger.)

Side note: why do scammers always print their names in ALL CAPS? Whether they claim to be Nigerian oil ministers or Chinese missionary real-estate moguls like MR QIAN HUA PAN & YAI CHOW WONG PAN (that's a direct cut-and-paste from the email), you can always tell a scammer by his all-caps name.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

A Tax Refugee's Farewell To New England

It's official: my partner got and accepted a job offer, we're leaving Connecticut, and erelong I'll be a Virginian again. Northern Virginia, this time; same high cost of living as the northeast, plus only THRICE the humidity! I expect my blog updates will be sporadic in the near future; right this second, I do not even know the answer to the question "What will my mailing address be, one month from today?"

Of course I'm happy and excited about the upcoming move: new things to see, new people to meet, and my chance of finding a good professional job in my field will surely be higher in northern Virginia than it is in central Connecticut.

But I'm heartbroken all the same, and already homesick though I have yet to leave. In terms of climate and geography, New England is my absolute favorite part of the country. I love sleeping beneath a blanket next to an open window in July. I openly gloated three years ago, when the Southland sweltered under 90-degree temperatures while I wore a jacket the first weeks of summer, to fight off the light chill of daytime temperatures in the low 60s.

Virginians, by contrast, will never need jackets in July unless they're living through some post-apocalyptic catastrophe scenario wherein the Yellowstone supervolcanic eruption or a massive thermonuclear exchange plunges the entire world into artificial winter. Which would be a bad thing, and I cannot in good conscience wish for it, so I'd best re-acclimate myself to eight months of sweaty summer out of every twelve (sigh).

I also like the fact that Connecticut, and the northeast in general, rank among the more socially liberal parts of the US. Connecticut wasn't the first state to allow civil unions -- but it was the first state to allow them because the legislature voted in favor of it and the governor signed it into law, rather than to comply with a court order. Even our Republicans tend to be moderates, unlikely to say "I believe in small government and personal liberty" in one breath and then add "unless it's in the Bible or between a woman's legs" in the next. (Connecticut Democrats and Republicans do tend to stink regarding the TSA and the war on drugs, of course, but that's true of Dems and Reps throughout the country, blue state and red state alike.)

So why am I leaving Connecticut in favor of a state whose political and geographical climates I find inferior in every way? Because "money." Specifically, taxes. I love Connecticut but I hate being poor, and this state's tax policy ensures only the rich can afford a middle-class existence.

I still recall the disbelieving horror I felt back in 2008, when I was a staff writer for an alt-weekly and did a story about property taxes in the city of West Hartford: An old man lived in the 1950s Cape Cod house he'd inherited from his parents. In 2007, his annual property tax bill was around $8,000, but after the citywide real estate revaluation the following year, his property tax bill nearly doubled, to just over $15,500.

What's the point in saving up to buy and pay for a house, if you still have to pay almost sixteen grand a year in "rent" to avoid homelessness? And that outrageous tax bill was four years ago, and the city has raised its property taxes higher than inflation every year since then -- Zod only knows what the bill is this year.

I once calculated that -- bearing in mind my landlord charges us below-market rent, because we're good tenants who've lived here for eight years -- if he converted our building to condos and gave us our place as a gift, the higher property taxes resulting from the switch to individual ownership would probably force us to reject the offer. Between property taxes, owner's insurance and our newfound responsibility for maintenance costs, we couldn't afford our apartment if we owned it outright,  because the property taxes alone would almost equal our current rent.

Granted, Virginia has a reputation as a high-tax state, by southern standards. It's the only state in the region to charge property tax on cars -- just as Connecticut does. But I'll tell you this: a few months ago I was feeling nostalgic, and Googled the name of an old lady I used to know. She lives in Virginia, in a small suburban city roughly equivalent to West Hartford (in the sense of being more upper-middle than middle-class, smaller and wealthier than the cities bordering it). 

Her city puts its property tax rolls online; in 2010 her house was valued at a half-million dollars. It's a larger, newer, generally better house than that 1950s Cape Cod in West Hartford, in a more-or-less equivalent neighborhood ... and her property tax bill was $2,500. For the entire year. A more expensive than average house, in a more expensive than average city, in a state reputed to charge more expensive than average tax rates -- yet her tax bill is still only a tiny fraction of what it would be here.

THAT is why I'm leaving Connecticut. I understand that, for as long as I live, I'll have to shell out money every month to avoid being homeless. Right now I pay that money to a landlord. If I had a mortgage, I'd pay that money to a bank. If I paid off the house completely, I'll still owe rent to the property tax collector. But I could manage $2,500 a year or less in anti-homeless bribes to the city government. I can't afford $8,000 to $16,000 a year for the same privilege, though, especially not when that rises higher than inflation every year.

There exists in America a contingent of people who believe that anyone who complains about high taxes is a rich, evil Scrooge-type who'd sooner see poor kids starve than pay an extra one percent sales tax on his yacht. Doubtless some anti-tax folks are rich evil selfish Scrooge-types who think just that. 

Not me, though. My anti-tax complaints aren't motivated by "hatred of the poor," but "hatred of the policies that keep me poor."
Still: A tiny, mean-spirited, schadenfreudy part of me thinks it'll serve Connecticut right, if my soon-to-be-vacant apartment is rented by the never-employed, never-married single mother of a half-dozen special needs children. ("Special needs" here to include "I need free breakfast because mom couldn't give me any, because she spent the grocery money on sexy lingerie to entice the daddy of child number seven.") Tax codes suggest that the state of Connecticut and all municipalities therein utterly loathe double-income no-kids households like mine, and lash out at anyone who deigns try to save money and build up assets over time; maybe they'll find happiness with my polar opposite instead.
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