0001 Lakera 22: Flushed

The universe giveth with the right hand and taketh away with the left.

Last week was Athamara, the details of are not yet written, but suffice to say that this is the big Lapinian end-of-year holiday celebrating love, friendship, and togetherness. Gift exchange, group gatherings, cuddle piles, lots of expressions of happiness that other people remain as part of our social circles. At least, that's how it's supposed to happen. With nobody having been told about it, it ended up just being a week off of work for me, a nine-day weekend that I really needed.

Today, after plowing through my backlog of email, I discovered the following unfortunate things:

  • I apparently didn't turn on my out-of-office reminder before leaving work Kimya week. No big deal, in and of itself, except that...
  • Two days ago, my realtor sent an email telling me that the oil tank at the house had run out! No problem yet but something to address pretty damn fast.

Putting these together, of course, meant that sometime between then and today, we had pipes freeze and burst. The oil delivery truck showed up at the house and immediately called to say that water was running down from the second story through the living room and into the basement. They very helpfully shut off the water main to keep the damage from getting any worse, but I have no way to survey the damage that's already been done.

Now, way back when, I had oil set up on an automatic delivery to prevent this very sort of situation. I just got a bill in my mailbox on a regular basis, and I paid it, and I never worried about getting low because they just knew when to fill the tank, and all was golden. So, when I moved, I assumed the same thing would continue, and that the bills would just show up in my new mailbox since I had mail forwarding.

Some time back in November, I discovered much to my shock that they weren't actually mailing me bills; they were stuffing them in my mailbox. A good chunk of time went missing between the arrival of one bill and the next, and in that window the oil company I had contracted to do automated delivery actually flagged my account as delinquent and disabled the routine shipments. Now, I can't really fault them for this; I'd have done the same if enough time had passed, especially if the house seemed empty and the only contact number I had was disconnected. So, I can't really blame them for this.

I can, however, get right pissed at them for not turning automated delivery back on after I called them in a state of great contrition and paid the delinquent bill in full. I even explained at the time that I had moved and that I wasn't going to be there to check on things. Now, it's entirely possible that they asked me if I wanted to go back to automated delivery and that I said no. I won't deny that that could very well have happened. At this point, I honestly don't remember. If I did, then mea maxima culpa.

Either way, I still have frozen pipes in my house.

I have no way to check the extent of the damage; I'm not there, and I can't really get there in any sort of a reasonable time frame. I just spent a week's vacation and can't really afford to take any more time to go back and look at the house. Even if I could... it wouldn't do me any good. I would just lose more sleep over things. I suppose in that sense, ignorance is bliss. The more facts I have, the more likely I am to chew the walls endlessly, working myself up into a fine froth over something I can't fix.

I've already called the insurance company to file a claim. Having had this scenario already happen three years ago, I have no idea if they'll honor it or not. At best, they say "this is what your policy is for" and it's all good less any deductible. At worst, they say nothing is covered and then I call the mortgage company and tell them they've got a lemon on their hands and I need to talk with their collections department, 'cause if insurance won't cover it, I can't afford to fix it myself and I won't be able to sell it for anything close to what I owe on it.

It would be very nice if the Luck Plane could please stop bouncing me so close to the bowl. Thank you.

Three steps forward, two steps back.


0001 Lakera 11: Requiescat

Resquiescat In Pacem: Molly Ivins, 1944-2007

In her final column, Molly Ivins said, "we are the people who run this country," and she's right. We are a government of the people, by the people, for the people. It is in our power to decide how this country will be run, and by whom. The politicians may be the ones who make the laws, but we make the politicians. It does not matter how many lobbyists spend their time greasing pockets and palms. It does not matter how much money they spend. What matters is for whom we vote, and why.

They know this. It is we, as a people, who have forgotten.

Right now, we have so many problems facing us as a society that I literally do not know where to begin. Utterly removed from any policy decision, the very process by which people take and keep office, and the abilities that people have once there, are so removed from the sane and rational that we cannot trust our current elected government to ever fix the problems. This is not a complaint about the direction we are headed, though I do have plenty of vitriol to spill on that front. No, this is anger directed at the very process by which we decide who gets to have a say in picking a new direction.

The Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo has ruled that political contributions equal free speech, meaning that more money equals more speech. This precedent is thirty years old and has almost no chance of revisitation and repudiation given our current political climate. Research abounds to suggest that the amount of money available to a candidate has a direct influence on the likelihood of a candidate getting elected above and beyond any message the candidate carries during the campaign. Until you have billions to spend, your voice will not be heard.

A patchwork of ballot access laws across the country make minor parties an afterthought to our political spectrum. The laws that govern who can get on the ballot in one state may be so different from the laws in the next that it is, I think, not unfair or misleading to characterize the process of registering as a national third-party candidate as "nigh impossible". It has been done, and it can be done, but the opportunity cost of doing so is egregious bordering on absurd.

To add insult to injury, the plurality voting system in place in most of this country's elections means that any third-party candidate that actually gets to on a sufficient number of ballots as to be treated with any modicum of seriousness becomes a threat. These people are not hailed as masters of navigating a rotten system. They are not praised for their dilligence and hard work. They are not recognized as serious contenders for the title of whatever office they seek. No, they are repudiated as spoilers to the party they most closely resemble. A serious Green candidate will become the biggest enemy of the Democrats, a Libertarian the victim of the Republicans, simply out of fear that any attempt at genuine candidacy will steal votes away from the "real" candidate.

What does all of this mean? It means that despite falling interest in the two major parties and rising dissatisfaction with the electoral process in this country, a wealthy elite representing a narrow band of political thought continue to dominate the electoral process. It means that unless you have a seven-figure salary or a major-party endorsement, your election campaign will be at best a fluke and at worst a joke. It means that if you have a viewpoint that deviates too far from the prescribed range of orthodoxy, you have virtually no chance of being elected.

I have not forgotten Bernie Sanders, but I think he's a one-off success story, not a trend.

I don't know where to start fixing things. I don't know if things can be fixed. I have ideas, but they seem huge and I feel very small in comparison. Looking at the laundry list of things that need correction, I still can't shake the sense that the easiest solution is to leave and let somebody else sort out the mess, but here, in no particular order, are my current ideas:

Do vote
This one seems obvious, but I still know people who say that their votes don't count. I can't argue my way out of that, because it's true that any given individual's vote doesn't make a direct difference on the outcome, but the aggregate effect of people not voting is a disaster.
Don't vote for any candidate that rejects public funding
This one may be a dying form of protest, but it's the only form of protest that really comes to mind for this point. The law will not save us here; the only thing we can do is save ourselves. I am prepared to limit my vote choices to those candidates who abide by public campaign limits. Hillary's not getting my vote even if she does win the nomination. I'll write-in if I'm forced into it, but I won't support any candidate that doesn't try to bring some sanity back to campaign financing.
Do look into third-party alternatives
Right now, at this precise moment in time, I care less whether you subscribe to the Libertarian, Green, Reform, Socialist, Workers', Communist, Constitution, or Independent Party. I care that we have a huge range of values and viewpoints that aren't being heard because the financial oligarchy that has been established finds it in its own best interest to keep those choices from being heard. I'll still dun you if you say something stupid, but I'd rather you say it and be heard than say it and be silenced.
Don't give them money
Yes, I am crazy. The last thing we want to do is shoot ourselves in the foot by transfering our political spending from two candidates to three or four. Give of your time, give of your support, but don't give of your pocketbook. If you believe in it, volunteer to help.
Do support organizations working for campaign reform
Here's a quick, but by no means exhaustive, list of groups trying to make the process of picking a winner more fair:
Don't partake of the election hysteria
Right now, just about every campaign that can go negative will do so. We as an electorate need to show that we're not going to buy into it. If a candidate goes negative, take your vote elsewhere and don't be afraid to contact the election office and tell them that their decision to run a negative campaign has cost them a vote.
Do talk to others
This is not a one-person effort. It can't be. It's not a work of dozens or hundreds or even thousands. This won't work if it's not some significant percentage of people who all recognize that this is something that needs to be done, and then actually does it. If you agree, then find someone and tell them. If you don't agree, tell me why. Explain to me what I've overlooked that makes these a bad plan.
Don't give up.
This probably isn't going to make a hill of beans in 2008. It might not even help us by 2010. However, if we don't start taking steps now, we'll never get where we want to go, and maybe if we start working now, by 2012 or 2014 we might start seeing some results.

The longest journey starts with a single step.