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Collected editorials

Not this August

Missing a screw

The other day I purchased one of those tree pruning gadgets for trimming off dead branches. For some reason it was missing a small screw for holding on the cutting blade. I dare say the fault was mine, that the manufacturers had included the screw but that I had lost it. In any event, there I was, missing a screw. (My readers have known this all along.)

I hied myself down to a local supplies store (local is 50 miles away – I do live in central SD after all) in search of screws. It seems that this store sold the screws, nuts, and lock washers in packages, so I bought a package of screws, a package of nuts, and a package of lock washers. That didn’t bother me. True, I only needed one of each, but you never know when you might need another one. Now here is the odd part.

A package of nuts screws holds 18 screws; a package of nuts holds 24 nuts; and a package of lock washers holds 30 lock washers. I’m not sure what the deal is on this. Maybe they figure that you are more likely to lose a nut than a screw, and even more likely to lose a lock washer. Still, one screw needs one washer and one nut. What are you supposed to do with the extras.

Is this nuts or what?

It ain’t broke, so fix it

One evening whilst attending a world science fiction convention in Denver I had a moment of panic. While starting up my car I discovered that one of the rear windows was down a couple of inches. So what you say? Well that was what I said until I pushed the button to close the window. It didn’t close. I kept pushing buttons. I discovered that the other rear window wouldn’t budge. Not only that, the passenger side window wouldn’t budge. At least the driver side window would go up and down.

I didn’t know what was going on. Was there some little motor that was stuck or broken? That didn’t seem right because there were three windows that weren’t operational. Maybe there was a fuse that was blown. Well, it was late and I wasn’t going to fix it in the dark, so I got in the car and drove back to my motel. Maybe I would have a bright idea in the morning.

Morning came as it so often does in Denver. I decided that the right thing to do was to call the service department of the local Toyota dealer and see if I could talk them into doing a quick fix. Having decided to call them I went ahead and called them. I explained to the guy at the service department that my rear window was stuck partly open. He asked if the other rear window and the passenger window were also stuck. I said yes. He said that I had pushed the window lock button. It’s not the fuse, I asked. No, he said, it’s the window lock button. He explained where the button was. I thanked him and went out to examine the car.

Son of a gun. Right next to the button that locks all the doors was another button, one that I had never really thought about before. I pushed it. What do you know, after I pushed it the windows all worked again.

Our Lady of the Large Black Dog giggled a lot when I told her about the incident.

Eating our young

Every editorial should include a good rant. Here’s mine. We as a nation are, metaphorically speaking, eating our young. Once upon a time, well within my lifetime, if not that of my readers, it was possible to work your way through college. Summer work and part-time work produced enough so that you could go through four years of college debt free. Not all colleges, of course, but the state colleges and universities.

When I went to college my tuition was 165 dollars a year. I grant that the dollar was worth more in those days but it wasn’t worth 50 or 100 times as much. If you were a resident of California tuition at state institutions was free – there may have been a nominal charge but my recollection is that it was free. It was one of the things that we believed in in those days – poverty should not stop anyone who was willing to work from getting an education.

The theory was that educated people made more money. Taxes on the increased incomes more than paid for the cost of the college education. The besides of which, the country profited from having all of those refurbished brains knocking about.

Things have changed a bit since then. Tuitions have sky-rocketed. And it’s not just tuitions; books, fees, etc have gone way up too, much more than the rate of inflation. We don’t do free any more. Instead we have a new theory.

The powers that be are willing to front the money for college but they want a guarantee on getting their money back. Here’s how it works. Instead of college being low cost, it’s high cost, but students can borrow cheap money to pay all those new expenses. The government does its part by guaranteeing the loans – it isn’t out of pocket on the deal. The lenders are okay, because these debts cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Come Hell or High Water they must be repaid.

Still, it seems like a good deal all around doesn’t it? Er, well, no, there are some gotchas. First of all, these repayments go into effect immediately upon graduation, regardless of whether you have a good job, a poor job, or no job at all. Under the old scheme, the bulk of the returned revenue (increased tax revenue) came later on in life when people were at their peak earning potential. There was an automatic adjustment for misfortune – you only paid if you had actually benefitted.

There is a more subtle gotcha. In ye olde days there was considerable financial pressure on the educational institutions because, after all, the government was paying the bill, and they couldn’t charge the marks, er, students more. In these good new days there tuitions and other expenses just keep climbing, year after year, at a rate greater than inflation. The educators all believe that they have more programs and equipment, and are all underpaid. (TA’s actually are underpaid, but that’s another matter and yet another example of how we eat our young.) The restraints have vanished because the students can just borrow more and more money.

Now comes step two of the gotcha. The regular kind of loans, Stafford loans or some such, have limits on how much you can get. The costs keep rising and they are not enough. Not to worry. There are private lenders who will loan our students money. These private loans are also must repay loans; however they don’t have caps on the avarice of the lending institutions.

Here’s how it can work in practice. Jane Doe thinks it would be great to be a chef. She signs up with a chef school that advertises big on TV. She accumulate $100,000 or so in loans, and then discovers that the jobs that she can get don’t pay squat. Worse the amount she owes keeps growing because she can’t keep up with the payments. The loan companies don’t care; they will get their money with big interest sooner or later even if she has to work the rest of her life for them.

The chaps at the government, the educational system, and the financial sector call it financing education. I call it eating our young.

There now, wasn’t that refreshing. Nothing like a good rant. Next time, credit cards and students.

It’s what’s out front that counts

When I was young my belly had a six pack. Nowadays all it has is beer.

Not this August

Some of my readers may have noticed that there is no August issue. My explanation for this is that it a gesture of deference to Cyril M. Kornbluth honoring his novel, Not This August.

If you don’t buy that story I suppose I must make do with the sordid truth. My faithful readers may have noticed that I have been slipping a day or two or three on the schedule now and then. It’s the usual story; my days are filled with this, that, and the other thing, and I let things slide, serene in the knowledge that I can cobble something together at the last minute. We’ve all been there, right? After all, it’s how our government works. The trouble with this theory is that when you regularly skate on the edge of disaster, sometimes the ice breaks.

The last two weeks of July were a disaster. There was the business of the community garden, which involved picking a large amount of produce. There is this to be said for flower gardens; you can just look at them and enjoy them. Vegetable gardens are a different matter. You have to harvest the veggies. It’s amazing how much broccoli you can get from a couple of rows.

Then there was the matter of finishing the tiling of the office. Tiling itself, that’s nothing. However I had to move everything that was on the untiled areas onto the areas that were tiled, chip out cement where the floor slab and the foundation had separated, patch it with patching cement (I should have used leveling cement but our local building supplies store is not big on such things), cut all the funny sized pieces because I was working around the edges, lay the tile, grout it, clean off the grout, and seal it. None of this is hard, but it is time consuming. Oh, yes, once the work is done you have to put everything back. Better yet, put the works into a state of order that it hadn’t seen for years.

I wanted all of this done before I headed out to Denver for the world science fiction convention. And, yes, I wanted to finish putting together the August issue before heading out. I had an editorial half written and some letters in the letter column and some articles. Next came disaster.

My portable hard drive died. I think that an errant microsoft update was the culprit, but it really doesn’t matter. The trouble is, you see, that I keep all of my current work on the portable hard drive. I back it up every so often, but I’ve been more casual about it than I should be. Fortunately I had done a back up in late July. The only things that were missing were my correspondence and usenet articles for a couple of months and … the August issue.

I got a new hard drive and set myself up in business again, but I simply didn’t have the time to start over again. By the time I got back from Denvention it already was mid August. I decide that it was simply too late to bring out an August issue. I’ve missed an issue before so there is a precedent.

Well, that’s my story. If you don’t like it, I can always come up with another one.

Paris Hilton For President

It does get kind of silly, doesn’t it? I haven’t decided who I’m going to support. An Obama presidency looks to be quite interesting, with good chances that he would turn out to be a charming incompetent. McCain looks to be boring, a centrist who might nod off with his finger on the button.

I’ve always supposed that my choice doesn’t matter, that I am fated to live in one party states. I am beginning to have an awful fear that it does. It seems that anybody I pick as a winner ends up being a loser. Poor Hillary. My apologies, I won’t do it again.

What if the word will get out about my unbroken record of failure? In an election this dicey the candidates will leave no tern unstoned in their desperation. I can foresee Obama operatives descending on Highmore with reams of material showing why McCain is the inevitable winner, and McCain operatives explaining why Obama is a shoe in.

I just don’t know what I would do if that comes to pass. I hope it does, though. These people spend money, and the Highmore merchants could use the business.

Olympic volleyball

Here’s how you tell if you are a real volleyball nut. If you are watching women’s beach volleyball in the olympics, you watch the way way they play volleyball and never notice their figures, then you are a real volleyball nut.

Progressive talk radio

One of my numerous character flaws is that I like to listen to talk radio when I am driving. The miles pass by as I scream at the radio, “You effing idiot, how can you say that!” Most of the talk radio available in SD is filled by neanderthals somewhere to the right of Jerry Pournelle (who prides himself on being to the right of Attilla the Hun) with serious disconnects from reality. It gets sort of monotonous.

In my recent visit of Denver I discovered it actually has a progressive talk radio station, AM 760 if I recall correctly. It was very refreshing. One of the things that I miss from the People’s Republic of Cambridge is left wing paranoid delusional thinking; it has ever so much more substance than the right wing brand. I suppose it happens something to do with progressives being more likely to read books without pictures.

I noticed something interesting. The right-wing talk show hosts whine about the main stream media; left-wing talk show hosts whine about right-wing talk radio. I think it says something about politics in this country, but damned if I know what.

Are you sexist or are you racist?

My, my, my. It’s not just the Democrats who had to make the choice. McCain has made sure that we all have to choose between the black man and the white woman. So which are you, America? Are you sexist or are you racist?

This page was last updated September 1, 2008.

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Collected editorials