I was born in 1948, at the foot of an enchanted mountain whose spirit enjoins me to rise higher

Ordinary citizen, empathetic contemplator (maybe a little too empathetic to be fully comfortable in the world, as it is). Don't look for academic credentials; this guy has none, save those gained over the course of many interesting (and, at times, difficult) life chapters, spent surviving on a shoestring budget.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

The wealth dichotomy: The the main drivers are so obvious. The solution is simple.

I'll keep it brief this time (as brief as clarity will allow for).

I've fixed thousands of broken things in my life, many of them simple messes.  When you're faced with a mess, the best approach, I've found, is to first separate what faces you into piles of items that share some salient common characteristic.  After that, each pile can be treated in its own special way.  Immediately, things that can be useful to you become apparent.  Things that can be recycled can be arranged for ease of handling.  Stuff that others can use can be set aside and so on.  In the end, if you're smart about it, the minimum turns out to be absolutely unusable.

It's not too much of a stretch to call the American wealth dichotomy a mess - a giant social mess that continues to get bigger and a glaring failure of our current approach to democracy.

You will never comprehend the nature of relative poverty if you fail to recognize that there are two distinct classes of causality behind such poverty.  The first comes out of left field in a person's life, laying them low, as the result of entirely unique personal factors.  The other relates to systemic factors that act, without surcease, to imprison whole classes of people in permanently disadvantaged circumstances.

Individual misfortune can be very difficult for government to redress in any meaningful way, and since this essay is directed at what I believe government should be doing, I'd like to put the class of individual misfortune off to the side with the casual observation that love connections - as opposed to institutional structure - can be most helpful in bringing relief to any given situation of personal misfortune.

The class of people this writing is dedicated to helping, however, involves those who find themselves trapped in communities where, no matter how hard they work, they just never seem to be able to get ahead of the endlessly rotating monthly cost of being where they are.  This second type of burdened Americans, includes various sub-classes, most of which could experience some degree of government-engineered relief, if we could only muster the intellectual force and the political will needed to design and enact appropriate fixes.  As it now stands, obstacles standing in the way of implementing of such relief are simply permitted to persist, interminably.

I can hear it now - the murmur of collective objection rolling in from that territory of political thought where any government expense on behalf of the disadvantaged and the struggling is verboten - unless, of course, it's for the purpose of continuing to expand our already enormous military/industrial complex.  Simmer down guys, these ideas aren't directed at expanding welfare rolls.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  They're directed at helping working people to keep more of what they earn so they can make more of the lives they have.

In America, outside of academia and a smattering of books and periodicals, we have tended towards a highly politicized view of poverty, muddied by the existing Democratic/Republican duopoly, the realities of which compel lawmakers to battle for political office in a way which tends to make them abandon sensible nuances for brazenly lopsided political polemic.  The white-hot realm of electing most lawmakers, swamped by blandishing tides of biased advertising that go for the gut effect, don't allow much room for finely tuned reasoning.  The observing public is coaxed into lusting after silver-bullet mental nuggets, most of which would do more harm than good if they were ever implemented.  Many politicians succumb to the temptation to oblige this lust, embracing the inevitable attention of the press with both arms.  Thus the opportunity to winnow out useful understanding from destructive disinformation, in the laying down of some base of useful common ground, is lost to a flood of angry emotion, election after election.

Arguably, frustration with that situation is what led many voters to opt for a presidential candidate whose personal means appeared to put him beyond having to pander to entrenched political process.  It remains to be seen whether that run around the flank of the system will prove to have been a good bet by American voters or a foolish abandonment of cautious protocol.  Personally, I don't care what party Mr. Trump actually belongs to; as far as relieving relative poverty is concerned, both the main parties have been miserable failures.  If his administration succeeds in allowing the United States middle-earnings class to both garner - and hold onto - a greater share of overall wealth, I will be jubilant.

As I have indicated in my essay toting the usefulness of lateral, class-neutral, person-to-person financial assistance in the mitigation of wealth disparity, there is nothing inconsequential about people falling from security into the spiritual pit of hard times.  It should be understood, however, that there is not much that government can do about insulating people from the effects of either bad luck, or bad choices, without becoming an oppressive force on their natural freedoms.

Many would argue that we have already strayed into the territory of government interference in people's lives, with no net social gain to show for it.  For the most part, I do not subscribe to that view.  One concern I do share, however, is what certain over-cautious regulatory controls might be doing to dissuade people from trying their luck in the niche business sector.

The one role of government that it would please me to see more vigorously applied is in the dismantling of entrenched systems of commercial, or financial, privilege that entrap whole classes of people in a financially disadvantageous situation, particularly in America's large cities.

When people migrate, en masse, to urban areas, looking for social gratification and work opportunity, the demand for housing becomes so intense that landlords jack the price up as high as the market will bear.  People end up being barely able to hang on to whatever housing they have secured.  They're left with very little to spend on the local, street-level economy.  Any hope of getting beyond renting and into a house of their own evaporates; and the situation remains that way, year after year, until they age out of the work roles they hold and are suddenly faced with being unable to make the rent they've been paying.

The grand solution to this pressing nationwide problem is so simple that it pains me to contemplate the institutional foot-dragging that surrounds the issue.  It all revolves around the simple principle of increasing supply and reducing demand in urban areas where people are closely packed together.  

I believe the whole situation would do a huge U-turn for the better if only people saw living in one of America's smaller communities as being more attractive than they do now, and one way to help that happen is for government to invest in improving public services and amenities in those smaller communities, in a word, by making them better.

 Another way to sweeten the bait is for government to do a better job of helping smaller, rural-based businesses survive (if not thrive).  The codes that apply to having a business in a rural community need to be simpler and reflect rural realities.  For instance, requiring some chuck wagon on some corner out in the middle of nowhere, patronized by ranchers and cowboys (like the one in our 150-strong town) to have a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, like some eating establishment in a city, is totally counterproductive, to put it kindly.  That business will simply disappear (leaving a lot of die-hard burger-chowing Republican gripers in its wake).

I'm advocating this approach from the standpoint of personal experience.  We moved out of Seattle to occupy and restore an old building in a one-horse town in the middle of nowhere.  It was a bit of a bumpy ride, at first.  People out here tend to be a bit rough around the edges, compared with their city brethren.  The trick was to not care too much about how much we stuck out.  It took time to find paying employment.  That period of difficulty forced us to invent our way toward living well on very little money.  The up side of being out here is that there is a lot of flexibility available, once you cop to the pace of things, and a huge bounty in natural providence.  All told, we now get to keep more of each dollar made than when we lived in Seattle, with very little to waste it away on.

Not a day goes by without me marveling at how financially lucky we've become, even though we may rail against the social and torpor of the surrounding county and its lackluster business activity.

This is a huge, mainly empty, country with thousands of languishing small towns waiting for earnest people with drive to come and breathe new life into them.  It's also veers hugely toward voting Republican, which is boring as all get out.  Why leave all of this bounty of ease and beauty to the Republican Party to monopolize.  I hardly think the nation's founders would delight in the idea of vast swaths of rural America sinking into the ideological swamp of entrenched, one-sided political discourse.

Now that's something to contemplate, isn't it?

Yes, we CAN make America great again; but not before we free the renters from urban servitude and help them get happily settled in slower-paced, more rural communities.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The trouble with coffee and tea at this time in history

I love coffee, I love tea.
Without those two, where would I be?
Out without a paddle on the deep blue sea.
I love coffee and I love tea.

No, seriously, I LOVE coffee and I LOVE tea.  I love them even more than beer, with whom I have a kind of love/hate relationship, given that the bigger the night I have with beer, the less I like myself in the morning after but, once I'm getting into the swing of things with it, the more I want of it.  Beer keeps things interesting, however, so I'm not down on it, by any means.  On more than one occasion during a big night out with beer, I've met some incredible, beautiful people who've enriched my life.  Yes, so beer is definitely in the mix, but only as mood and pocket change permit.

Coffee and tea, on the other hand, are everyday must-haves.  Tea lifts this ailing shell out of its post-sleep torpor and, that duly achieved, raises my blood pressure to the point where the afterburner of several cups of full-bodied coffee can be allowed to kick in.  Only then can I sit down at the piano and practice a song or two as if I were on stage in front of a packed house.

Nothing I can say about coffee can add anything to the countless tributes of exultation coffee has earned itself from writers of merit.  In all its forms of preparation, coffee is a staple upon which minds, both great and small, depend in some way.  Some use it to wake up, others to get going and still others to avoid falling asleep.  A great many use it just to get a break from whatever's in front of them.  It's the pretext that helps those who'd like to know what's up with one another get together, including those intent on romance.  The true gourmand uses a demitasse of it to put the finishing touch on the evening's meal.  Drivers, bedeviled by the hallucinations of night driving on long trips, get it to avoid death behind the wheel.   Young women drink lattes to-go, seemingly by the gallon, for reasons I have yet to fully understand.  Had too much alcohol to drink to feel secure about driving?  Nothing works to bring you back to your center like a cup of good, strong, black coffee with a teaspoon of sugar.  There are even those who like to drink coffee like a night cap, even though it's supposed to wake you up.

This seems an appropriate point at which to announce out that October 1st, 2016 was the second annual official WORLD COFFEE DAY.  

But there's something about coffee, particularly, that we should pay more attention to, especially if we think sustainable production of high quality coffee is an important goal for producing-countries and consuming-countries to strive for - the dread scourge of soil degradation caused by establishing a one-way conveyor belt of vital nutrients from plantations to the sewers and landfills of consumers.  This concern carries the extra weight that this final transfer moves from mostly poorer countries (exceptions are the USA and Australia whose combined output is around 3,600 metric tons - .0041 percent of world production of 8,315,984 metric tons), where the hourly cost of the labor needed to harvest and process the coffee for shipment is relatively cheap, to richer countries where people (at least, those of them that still have paying work) are notably better off - as in, not living so close to the edge of daily survival.  In its very essence, this business is inequitable, to some degree, although there are many trying to reconcile that fact, with some recent success, by shortening the supply chain and, thereby, leaving a larger percentage of the final per/lb cost paid by the consumer available for paying the hands-on producers.  Such counter-measures against inequity aside, however, the long-term peril of soil depletion persists and we must address it now or pay a painful price for failing to get a counterbalancing flow of vital nutrients established that is as organic as the coffee we drink.

The first small steps have been taken toward reducing outright waste.  Many municipalities - at least, those with a progressive and industrious bent (read, those with a higher proportion of younger adults) - have taken on the task of creating facilities that make compost from organic waste, along with legislation that encourages or compels citizens to separate their household waste streams into compostable matter, recyclable materials and non-recoverable garbage.  Those with the best systems even separate woody compostables from food-derived side product, such as peels, cores and, most notably, spent coffee grounds, since these produce the highest and most easily produceded grade of compost.  That, at least, keeps useful compounds within the biological envelope of the world.  What it doesn't do, however, is keep nutrients within that envelope in the kind of balance that are best for the production of all food products, particularly as regards coffee.

In the UK, a company called Bio-Bean has created a success out of using spent coffee grounds to make high-grade stove pellets.  Currently, they take in 50,000 metric tons of raw material - ten percent of what UK coffee drinkers produce - and that recapture rate is increasing.  Environmental groups cite this as an example of free market ingenuity being the antidote to outright waste.  Though it does have a 'green' upside to it, in that something once wasted is now being used to provide energy, while acting as an offset for the use of ancient-carbon fuels, it still falls far short of the kind of bi-lateral, symmetrical exchange in trace nutrients needed to keep soil inventories on both sides of the coffee trade healthy.

The reader may be thinking that I have some kind of solution up my sleeve that would slow or stem this giant global problem.  In all truth, I don't.  The fact is that a huge amount of biological material, perfect for soil amendment currently ends up in the mixed garbage and mixed sewage streams.  Ideally, we would not be mixing recoverable waste materials of a bio-active nature that can be turned into high grade fertilizer with materials that are either potentially toxic or problematic to the achieving of that end.

Some progress has been made toward streaming different types of waste for recycling but the potential for greater sophistication in that area is far from being tapped out.  I'm a believer in the idea that government has to lead the way by investing heavily  and ostentatiously in systems and companies of sufficient scale and institutional will to make believers out of skeptics.  When it looks like the players really mean business, the cache of supporters is increased and that of critics diminished.  The skeptics I'm referring to are average people of generally good intent who tend to sit on the fence about things until they see them appearing to work out well.  Only then, are they content to fall in line and get with the program.

The beauty of sorting what you don't want into well defined repositories is that it preserves the opportunity for all players, both active and potential, to be able to use those resources intelligently and at a scale large enough to derive useful recovered product efficiently.  A good example of this is the well-established industries that use recovered aluminum in countless forms - everything from balls of used foil to the cut off ends of massive beams - to make a slew of gleaming new products - like the case of this Dell Precision M65 laptop I'm using, for instance.  The cardinal mistake that many naysayers make, in assessing whether new ways of doing things are viable, or not, is in completely dismissing the role of what appears to be normal social behavior, as opposed to aberrant.  They claim that people only will do what it suits them to do.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  At 68 years of age, I look back and see many forms of behavior, once considered normal when I was a child, that are now considered aberrant by the majority - casually lighting up a cigarette anywhere you like, racist humor, blatant sexist behavior, the underpaying of women for equal work done, racial segregation, casual cruelty to animals, throwing litter out of a car window, disposing of chemicals down the drain, beating children, trophy hunting of rare animals, dumping used motor oil on the ground, just to name a few.  In most of America's large cities, you can add to the list, not sorting your household solid waste into recyclable and non-recyclable materials.  The point I'm trying to make is that the overwhelming majority of people get used to doing things the way they believe is the right way and that, given time, most will come around to supporting institutions of social action, regardless of whether doing involves a little extra effort on their part.

If that is indeed a fact of social behavior, then the potential for creating a complex of systems designed to return vital nutrients, present in coffee grounds and municipal sewage in the coffee-consuming world, to the tropical lands whence they arose as raw bean tonnage.  Bio Bean has already shown that thoughtful users are prepared to participate in the massive collection of used grounds (which, by the way, make an excellent compost additive).  The basic components that are taken up by the coffee producing lands from the air - carbon dioxide, oxygen, water and nitrogen - are universally available.  Those components that are not  part of the atmosphere include the following.  The list that follows was excerpted from an analysis of inorganic versus organic coffee, posted on the internet.  Don't be confused by the numbers; they denote the number of milligrams of the listed element per gram of, first, organically grown coffee and, second, coffee grown using inorganic chemical fertlizers:

Table 3. Elements in “Organic” Coffee and “Inorganic” Coffee (unit: μg/g)
Element OrganicArabica Coffee InorganicArabica Coffee
2898.44 ±130.22
2976.34 ±128.79
818.36 ±75.28
1883.11 ±246.66
52.74 ±6.38
35.436 ±3.882
4519.45 ±396.80
5645.66 ±647.22
41.13 ±3.95
26.43 ±2.80
316.47 ±29.62
255.36 ±16.16
41.82 ±7.737
32.73 ±6.55
-0.01 ±0.02
2.07 ±1.02
12.98 ±2.44
20.67 ±4.30
14.76 ±1.86
41.95 ±1.96
0.12 ±1.34
46.99 ±15.64
1.11 ±0.22
2.76 ±0.54
-0.31 ±1.18
12.20 ±3.05
5.29 ±1.45
4.13 ±1.06
0.73 ±2.59
450.87 ±117.83
1.29 ±0.57
18.66 ±2.97 

I don't want to get into comparing "organic" against "inorganic".  Different soil regions will, doubtless, produce different ratios.  But just look at that range of trace elements coffee uses to create that beautiful flavor we so love!  (By the way, naturally occurring strontium is not radioactive.  Chemically, it mimics calcium).  The above says nothing about the molecular arrangement of these elements, made by the plant and the full complex of living organisms, large and microscopic that surround and inhabit it.  We have to keep in mind that it takes work by living systems to make all those delicate - but vital - organic molecules, so the less those systems have to work to put those elements back in place, after agricultural activities have occurred, the easier it is for the soil and plant to grow, thrive and produce yet another crop of fruit and seeds (the seeds of the coffee plant being what we want for our morning repast).

Naturally, the same concern applies to the production of fine-tasting black and green tea from the the camellia sinensis plant.  The commercial production of this kind of tea occurs in cooler hill country of various tropical nations in Asia.  The work involves careful harvesting of the newer growth of plantings.  Originally,  harvesting at scale was made possible only with the manual help of many skilled pickers, paid a daily pittance for their work under the fierce tropical sun.  Today, mechanization has reduced the amount of field labor required.  The soils, however, still have to bear the demand from the world's steadily growing number of tea drinkers.  As with coffee producing areas, the nutrient drain is incessant.

I'm not saying that I have any really implementable ideas that would slow this slow transfer of phyto-chemicals from poorer nations to the waste-handling systems of the developed world.  What I'm saying is that we should start resolutely down the path of exploring how nutrient recovery and return, from the waste systems of consuming nations to the soils of the producing regions, might be implemented, slowly and progressively, so that the internal financial structures involved in this sector have time to adapt.

That would be a good thing, indeed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

On my 50-year battle with a skin fungus, now being won with a variation of salad dressing

The point about knowing a trick that might be useful to many who suffer, is to spread the knowledge of it.  Why else have a forum like this?  This post concerns a corporeal problem that affects millions of people in this country, alone.  It can be both painful and depressing to contract a skin/nail fungus.  Soldiers in Vietnam would end up in the infirmary, unable to walk, with what was referred to as "jungle rot" - a condition, normally, of multiple infections precipitated by a primary fungal infection.  That knowledge has been widely shared.  Less well known, is the extent to which the same condition undermines the quality of life of the civilian population affected by it, or what can be done about it, short of a $900 laser treatment.

I first contracted foot fungus, affecting the skin of both hands and feet, plus the nails thereof, in boarding school, 50 years ago.  Nothing available to me then would cure it.  In the heat of the South African (and later, Brazilian) summer, flare ups were extensive and serious.  Masses of tiny blisters lifted the skin right off the flesh, creating openings for secondary bacterial infections.  At times, hands and feet would have to be bandaged.   Ever the faithful companion, it came with me to the US, when I moved here.  Thankfully, those days are over; but the systemic presence of the fungus remained, creating an unsightly mess of the nails of both feet and hands.   The advent of over-the-counter topical anti-fungal creams was a huge help for me.  When Grocery Outlet started selling Tolnaftate for under two bucks a tube, suddenly I could manage my condition totally affordably.  A full cure remained out of reach, however.  Then the situation took a dramatic turn for the better.  I read, on the internet, how this doctor treated soldiers in Vietnam who had contracted sever cases of foot fungus, easily and cheaply, by having them soak their feet in vinegar daily, after which coconut oil was applied, along with a fresh pair of thoroughly washed socks.  I wasted no time trying the procedure.  It works, by gosh, but you have to make it part of your routine for it to be successful.  Here's my routine (I have a pretty physically intense life, out here, in middle of nowhere, which makes the dedicated patient existence impractical).  I forbid myself from putting on a fresh set of thoroughly washed socks without first doing a full foot soak in apple cider vinegar, combined with a thorough rubbing to remove dead skin cells all the way to just below the knee, one foot at a time.  This way, both hands get the immersion as well.  Then the foot is allowed to air dry, leaving the acid residue right where it is, killing all microbial hitchhikers.  When a foot is dry, I mix a liberal amount of coconut oil with an equal measure of tolnaftate cream and massage the mixture into the skin of both hands and feet.  After that, the clean socks go on and I'm good to go for days after.  The used vinegar is not thrown away.  It is passed through a paper filter and stored in two former mayonnaise jars for future reuse.  This will be my routine, henceforth.  It;s so easy to do.  The longer sock wear between changes totally offsets the extra time taken.  I'm not cured yet, but I have seen growing improvement in the condition of my nails and that's very encouraging.  For soldiers in foreign places, where facilities for cleanliness are scarce, or nonexistent, it should be standard procedure, if only to enhance full readiness.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Simple tip about fat that might save your life

By now, we all know that ingesting too much fat of just about any kind can affect one's health adversely.  So, developing handy little ways to protect your cardio-vascular integrity, without breaking too much of a sweat about it, is something a smart person is going to value.  Life should not be a grim odyssey of highly disciplined regimens, focused solely on keeping the physical entity alive, while the fun-loving, relaxed side of one's spirit languishes.

Now, here's a fact that some might not know:  fat, in it's many forms, is essential to your well-being!
That's right.  Your physical complex needs to take in fat to be able to make your day better by keeping your psychological complex well oiled.  Without fat, your nervous system is a veritable basket case of needless discomfort.  Without fat, your body has to work a lot harder to give you the energy to function in a way where you aren't noticing how tired you are and how hard it is to keep going on what you need to get finished.  People with too little fat to run on are MORE prone to disease conditions than those who have a little more than they need.

So, clearly, you have to keep a balanced intake of fat going.  Experts tell you this fat or that is better for you and stipulate how much you should be allowing yourself to ingest.  That's a good start, but most of us aren't going to be that attentive to what we eat as we do everything we can to enjoy the life we have, and the ones who are that attentive, for the most part, don't seem to be enjoying themselves all that much.  I believe the trick that we use to keep ourselves roughly on the good side of fat intake has to be a lot simpler to be widely embraced.  (Drum roll here).

The secret, friends, is to cook your own delicious evening dinner, leave plates, pans and dishes right there, go to bed, sleep, wake up, have a nice hot cup of your preferred beverage and then wash the dishes under a thin stream of COLD - yes, I said COLD - water, using a sponge only, NO detergent.  If everything you used comes out clean, without greasy residue, and without noticeable effort, you're home free.  If not, you need to change something in your cooking, like using either less, or a different kind of fat and you need to keep trying until you get it right.

Does this mean no frying or braising?  Absolutely not!  Food has to make your mouth water and there is no other way to make it so other than using fat as a cooking medium.  In our case, for the most part, frying precedes braising and stewing.  The key to great tasting food is the choreography of bringing the raw materials to the pan - first this and then that and son on - using the right temperature for the job and knowing when to take the pan off the heat.  In that way, fats are incorporated into the end result in a virtually seamless process of amalgamation.  Of that kind of food, you can have seconds and not wake up in the middle of the night with heartburn.

Adding vegetables to meats is essential.  Sorry, carnivorous types, but that's an inescapable law of the universe.

Hey, we're not kill-joys over here.  Life affords us a beautiful abundance of gustatory delights and we should indulge ourselves in those things with grace and gratitude.  Take fat out of the picture and the whole thing dims to a shadow of its true glory.  So eat fat, by all means, but do it most often in the context of your own cooking.  Afterwards wash up with COLD water only and a sponge (keep that sponge clean, squeeze it dry after use and place it scouring side down too dry).  The results of your efforts will tell you whether you're within fat intake limits, or not.  Simple as that.

Arguably, this little tip has the potential to do more good for people than all the other, more complicated issues I generally turn my writing to.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Independent confirmation of a post in this blog from a high place

I know that practically nobody checks out what I post here and so, since that's the case, I might as well let it all hang out, for once.  It's something like playing before an empty house; if I step over the line of tact and brag some about being right, no great damage will result.  When you get corroboration from some highly credentialed party of an idea the arose out of your own life-informed deliberations, you have a right to say, "See, I'm not just some dumb shit with delusions of visionary grandeur, spouting forth.  Great minds DO think alike and, man, I am ever so tired of being humored as an oddball gadfly, out there in some wobbly orbit, grabbing at tendentious threads but devoid of real intellectual grasp on the bigger picture of things work, or less than qualified to make a proposal that might actually be useful in helping to make the world a better home for humankind.

It's a reaction from people that I've had to deal with all my life, from the days I was teased for being overly intellectual while in boarding school, 55 years ago, until today.  Strangely, I just can't figure it out.  It could well be a problem of inadequate presence.  Being thin and not very tall, with an unusually soft voice is not a combination that leads people to sit back and pay attention, intellect notwithstanding.  I've never once been offered a paid position where the product of my innately intellectual mind earned me a decent paycheck.  Rather, I found myself being shunted into roles where I was required to use it for generally stupid purposes, like stocking grocery shelves in a more pleasing way, or managing other people's throw-aways for the lowest ecological impact, because they were too lazy or indifferent to do it themselves.  For some reason, I never managed the trick of engendering the patronage of those who could help me climb out of the humble circumstances I've grown accustomed to having to deal with, even if I don't actually accept them as fitting for the two of us, Rachel and me.

That's why it's really nice to find my own eccentric convictions echoed in the words of others who have managed to make themselves into respected authorities on certain topics.  

The post of mine that I'm referring to is the one I wrote on lateral giving - the kind of financial help you get from people who actually DO care about your well-being enough to give you what you happen to be in need of (as opposed just saying they care about you).  The person of intellectual authority from whom corroborating statements come is Paul Niehaus, champion of the idea of direct, non-controllist giving, through the organization Give Directly.  There are many Google headlines to choose from.  I'll let you come to your own conclusions on what he has to say about what he believes in.

The point he makes that I really like is that the poor are, in almost all cases, the best authorities on the peculiarities of their lives, better than any organization, regardless of funding, could ever hope to be.  The poor aren't some nebulous, helpless mass; they're sentient individuals who are living very closely held lives, financially speaking, with little or no room for error or waste.  They know, far better, how to stretch the value gained from a dollar than almost any rich person does.  I totally cop to that one.  It's the very life Rachel, my partner, and I have lived for decades.  Having to do without things others take for granted is the life we live, all the time.  We know how that sharpens your wits.  When you live poor for a long time, you constantly seek and find ways to make the limits of poverty work better for you.  And when you do so, your impact on the planetary environment shrinks to a tiny fraction of what the average rich person burns through.

Who better to determine how a certain individual stuck in poverty should choose to use money than that individual him- or herself?

Rich people who base their disinclination to help a poor person in need on lame excuses like, " They just use it to buy alcohol", instead of just coming out with it and saying, "Fuck them, they're just losers and I don't give a shit what happens to them, because I don't value them" - which is really what they mean - get my goat; especially the ones who have no trouble liking a drink themselves.  The rich drink like fish.  Are the poor not entitled to the comfort of strong drink too?  Lord knows, they could use a little comfort and if strong drink does it for them, so be it.  In fact, I know it too.  In fact, I'm getting a little upset just writing this and will take a few seconds for a sip of red wine to allay that uncomfortable surge that inner rage stirs in my blood.  That's better.  What kind of self-righteous, sanctimonious fuckhead would deny a poor man the chance to sooth his inner devils with a little rotted fruit juice?  As if abstinence were equivalent to virtuousness.  Abstinence is simply the doing of nothing.  Rarely is there any virtue in doing nothing.  I'll tell you what is virtuous in the extreme - generosity, the generosity to give without condition or subsequent judgment.  Now, THAT'S virtuous.

Thank God there are still a few of that kind of giver around because, if there weren't - I'll say it out loud and clear - I'd be long dead, either of exposure induced illness as a homeless dude, or from outright starvation.

The benefactors of whom I speak have been many.  They are not forgotten and my hope is that somehow, somewhere, my good referrals on their behalf is being noted for future reference by such authorities who regulate the conditions that await us beyond this life.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The principal, plain and simple reason America's disastrous wealth dichotomy continues to grow and resist being fixed

A life spent yearning to be poor no longer is not necessarily an opportunity wasted.  It keeps prodding one to understand how that happened to you and to look for keys in the workings of the national life we all share together - broadly, unchallenged social constructs - that keep America stuck in a self-destructive state, obstructing it from moving towards a condition where the difference between what wealthiest class has, versus the poorest, is far less extreme.

I have long sought that magic bullet - a short pithy argument - that would streak straight into the dark heart of the Frankenstinian complex of our most damaging shared misconceptions.  Today, it came to me.

America will only get sicker until it learns to face the truth that no great nation can ever endure as long as those earning below the median permanently forfeit more of what they earn to the challenge of housing themselves than those above that line.  The key to fully comprehending this grotesque reality lies in understanding the role that home ownership plays in preserving and expanding individual and family held equity (roughly, the total potential value of the things one owns that can be sold for money plus the cash one has).

The average American will spend about 65 years having to pay for a safe roof over his or her head.  That translates into 780 months.  Currently, in any one of the top fifty cities to live in in America (one per state, average), the average monthly rent paid by the individual for housing is around $800.  Rents don't fluctuate to the same degree over time that house prices do, so that figure is a pretty reliable extrapolative tool.  Census records show that a little more than half the people in the US live in rented housing.  Of those, around 8 in 10 rent or are compelled to rent because the action of coming up with the down payment needed to initiate buying a home (as opposed to just making payments, after having concluded a purchase) is not within their financial reach.  The approximate number of Americans who fall into this broad category is 130 million.  Each, reaching the end of his/her life as a permanent renter - often penniless and on state assistance - will, on average, have shelled out an amount equivalent in today's money of $624,000 or $1,248,000 per couple, with nothing in held equity to show for that huge outlay that can be exchanged for cash, and nothing to leave as assistance to their heirs.

Rich Americans, in total contrast, play a much more sophisticated and financially rewarding game with their need for housing.  Leaving aside the ridiculously rich who don't need to care if they lose a few million on some ill-chosen piece of real estate, most of the simply rich use the houses they buy to live in to get significantly richer, often ending their lives doing a reverse mortgage on some insanely expensive piece of real estate which they either get to live in as the cash-out winds toward its end point, or deed to their surviving heirs.

Nothing puts the lie to the vaunted boast of American class mobility like this dichotomy.

The stark contrast between these two outcomes tends to transfer an equally stark contrast in wealth outcomes for the survivors of these two radically different classes of home occupants.  That dichotomy in outcomes for survivors inevitably rolls over into the larger nationwide dichotomy between the wealthy and the poor.  In fact, if there is any greater contributing factor to that lamentable outcome, I'd sure like some genius to fill me in on the details of what it is.  Most often, the simplest explanation is the best one.

If government would like to see the wealth dichotomy reduced, (it professes to), it might get up off its generally lazy intellectual rump and look somewhat harder for ways to mitigate those factors of our social system that lead Americans to exploit the need for housing in trying to make the kind of money that most cannot hope to earn in ordinary employment.  Across the board leveling actions need to be added to the general mix of how our society works, with great care taken to ensure that it does not adversely affect net employment created by private enterprise.  This is not some socialist, pie-in-the-sky wish.  The whole point of it would be to free up money held by the average person and redirect it away from the rapacious housing sector towards the consumer products-and-services sector.  The overall effect of such actions would help free enterprise by increasing the money supply on the demand side of the economy (outside of housing), particularly among younger adults.  There would be a shift in the general shape of the economy, with a greater variety and number of jobs created for each million dollars diverted out of the housing sector toward other forms of enterprise.

It's just that simple.

The day the average poorer person parts with less for a lifetime of being housed than the average richer person will be the day the New American Economy begins.

So why is it proving so hard to get the ball rolling?   Because, whether they're rich or poor, the great majority of Americans cherish the daydream of making it big someday, the easy way and, unless you're close to brain-dead, you know that real estate is the most accessible way to get rich at other people's expense, either by selling a property at the right time to some sucker who believes  the right time is still a few years ahead, when the last buyer will be left holding the baby during a downturn - sort of like in a pyramid scheme - or by renting to suckers who are always a dollar short and a day late of being able to buy a house and who simply can't face moving one more time.

We're little better than a nation of hucksters.  It's in the blood.  The less risk-enthralled remained behind in the countries that waves of immigrants came from.

But time is running out.  The game of appropriating the luck of dupes in an entirely legal way is headed at speed toward a crown fire of social rage.  This new generation of young adults, fleeced at every turn, is well aware that the rules are stacked against them having any chance at becoming as comfortable as as their parents were at the same age.  They're about ready to burn the place to the ground, politically speaking.  They see capitalism as the enemy, even as they try to use it to make a living (if you can call it that).  To increasing numbers of them, unbridled socialism is the answer.  The subtle truth that capitalism depends upon a socialistically-maintained material/legal infrastructure which depends upon capitalistic success for the tax revenue that is its lifeblood, making the two systems interdependent, lacks visceral appeal.  Kicking somebody's ass, on the other hand, has great visceral appeal.  You can see it all coming like a sucker punch in a slow motion snippet.

Before it's too late for reasonable minds to prevail, those currently in the winner's seat had better make this thing called America work better for all or sit down and start planning living compounds like the rich have in places Americans are too scared to visit.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Update number two (July '16) on the house we left in Seattle

Take a look at this: http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/514-N-78th-St-Seattle-WA-98103/48767725_zpid/.  That's the house we lived in, bought in 1997 for $182,500, barely improved, rented out and sold in 2016 for $719,000!  On the left, you will see a picture of the house as it was when we lived in it.  The smaller picture to the right shows what it looks like now.

Well, our erstwhile landlords finally got a respectable do-over commissioned and sold the house for a luridly gross equity uptick of $530,000 over what they paid for it.  From the picture on Zillow, it looks sound, if somewhat sterile, compared to the lovely livable dwelling it was before.  But let's not allow sentiment to run away with the issue.  The last thing the owners were trying to make out of this was some kind of magical, ecologically sensitive masterpiece.  Right from the outset, their goal was to make as much money out of owning the property as they could, which is their prerogative, and, as you can see from the obscene markup, they did pretty well at that.  Before someone jumps down my throat and points out that they must have spent at least $40,000 getting it ready for sale, let me make clear that they took an awful lot of money from us during the twelve years we lived there - $210,000 - which, if they'd invested it wisely - making an average of, say, 3%/annum - and stuck to their other, diverse sources of income for living expenses, including a military pension and social security, would have given them more than enough to cover that cost without any use of the principle.  Before all that gets your head in knots, let's just consolidate it all into one net profit figure of somewhere close to $740,000, before taxes and other forms of erosion associated with the process.  One thing you don't need to include as some kind of hidden cost is anything they may have spent on the property while we were there.  We kept track.  It was around $75.  Yes, let me spell that for you, seventy-five dollars!

The true hidden cost is what happened to us, financially speaking, over that twelve year period - the folks who built the third bedroom in the basement at their own cost - plus what happened to the ecological niche the house constituted for the other living things that abode in harmony there - the bountiful hazelnut tree, the bitter cherry, the pacific yew, the plum tree, the photinia and camelia that afforded privacy and shelter for birds, the stellar's jays, wilsons warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, western tanagers, the sparrows, the robins, the chickadees that produced ten generations in the houses we provided for them, the five species of bee we'd see on our flowers, the paper wasps, hornets, moths and butterflies, the squirrels, raccoons, tree rats - everything, right down to the earthworms whose number our efforts so greatly increased.  Gone are the aforementioned trees and with them, the habitat they provided for all the other creatures, right down to the earth worms who no longer forage on the compost we made from the leaf litter we cleaned up.

Finally, there's the lost opportunity cost to society of having people who were already rich getting even richer, while those they rented to exited the picture a lot older and in a worse net wealth position than a decade ago.  Supplementary paying work is exceedingly difficult to come by in this remote area and the building we bought has structural defects we did not know about at sale and which we can't afford to have a contractor fix.  HAD WE BEEN HELPED TO BUY THE THE HOUSE WE WERE RENTING FOR THE $300,000 IT WAS OFFERED TO US AT IN 2011, GIVEN IT THE SUPERFICIAL FIXES IT NEEDED AND THEN SOLD IT FOR ONLY A HALF-MILLION, OR SO - AS WAS OUR PLAN, EXACTLY - WE'D NOT ONLY BE FREE-AND-CLEAR, WITH CASH TO SPARE, BUT ALSO IN A REAL HOME OF OUR OWN ON THE RESIDENTIAL LOT WE OWN OUT HERE (BUT NOW CAN'T AFFORD TO DEVELOP).  In that scenario, our ex-landlords would still have made a respectable profit, just not the absolute killing they did, and our respective states of wealth would have been far less divergent.

You may ask, why didn't we buy the house?  Well, we tried, but we couldn't get anyone to help us buy it.

People cluck and moan about America's growing wealth dichotomy, finally realizing (especially in  this populist-driven election cycle) what a threat it poses to the proper exercise of American democracy.  Let them reflect on the fact that it is through lost wealth-building chances like this one that the dichotomy grows fastest, much less than through disparate pay. More people need to learn better how wealth is acquired, protected and spread around society.  The consequences of "missing the boat", when one of life's rare wealth-enhancing opportunities comes along can be profound, all but ensuring an old age of grim struggle ahead.

So, in the net accounting of all things under the sun, I ask you, is the fact that they managed to sell the house for a lifetime holding gain of well over half a million dollars a gain or a loss?

Naturally, we have strong opinions of our own about how things turned out.  If we even deign to think about Seattle, at all, it is with a combination of the darkest feelings.  Doing so leaves me depressed, filled with a sense of dread about how we will fare in a world intoxicated by notions of wealth at any cost and pointless personal excess for a select few, even as it slips inexorably toward the cliffs of mindless self-destruction.  What can you say about life when earnest stewardship and kindness is rewarded with grinding penury and grievous insecurity while callous indifference for everything other than financial gain walks away with a royal excess of security and comfort?