July 17th, 2017

#5740: It's the hottest year ever, as usual

They had fifty feet of snowfall in the California mountains last winter. And so the alpine skiing season is expected to continue through July and into August.

Because of course "global warming" means "more snow".

Meanwhile, here in the Fungal Vale, I'm reminded of the summer of 1992. 1992 was a cool summer, very much like this one has been so far. In 1991, Mount Pinatubo erupted, and the aerosols and dust emitted by that one big eruption was enough to drop the global temperature anomaly by half a degree--with the result that we had a lot of pleasant days that summer. Oh, we still had hot days, but we also had a lot more days where the windows could be open, or where it was a tossup whether it was hot enough to justify AC.

This summer has been very much like that one. Today, for example, there are no visible clouds in the sky, the sun is shining, and the dewpoint is under 60°. A perfect day for cutting the grass, which I'll be doing a little later on.

* * *

It's not an inability to find workers. It's an inability to find cheap workers. That's the angle no one's talking about in any of these articles: comapnies' inability to hire qualified people occurs because they want to pay shit wages for them.

Tech companies abuse the H1-B visa system to hire foreign labor for pennies. To do that, they first have to be able to demonstrate they can't hire an American for the job, and they do that by advertising the position at some stupefying low wage. Say, a job that requires expertise in, oh, designing microwave ciruitry and wants someone with five years' experience, but they offer $50,000 a year. (Hint: if you've got five years' experience designing microwave circuitry and you're worth hiring at all, your salary won't be less than $100k, and probably more.)

And after the job remains unfilled--which it will, by design--they get an H1-B visa and hire a guy or two from India to fill the position.

The tech world is full of these kinds of examples. Foreign labor depresses wages; why hire an American who expects a living wage when you can hire three foreign guys for the same price? Why would you need to when foreign labor is so cheap, plentiful, and easily obtained?

Every company that complains about their inability to hire people would find themselves overwhelmed with applicants if they weren't trying to lowball wages. The place that had the job fair late last month: they were starting people at something like $16 an hour--for warehouse work--and they had their choice of applicants, a packed parking lot and a long line of people applying for a job.

In the case of most companies, I cite the source every time, but as a former boss of mine said, "They want God for $5 an hour."

They don't want to train; they want to hire someone who already has the skills. They won't look at someone who has similar skills and could easily learn. They won't consider the person who can demonstrate an encyclopedic knowledge of the field in question but is missing one tick on the chart. And (as I found out) they'll set tests which arbitrarily exclude highly qualified candidates.

Not feeling sorry for the companies, here. They're doing it to themselves.

* * *

The main driver of all this is that cars cost too damned much. Defaults on auto loans are soaring. People can't afford new cars without very long-term loans, and as the auto industry seeks ever-expanding sales they naturally lower the standards for auto loans. The easy money drives the price of cars higher even as more people buy cars than ever before.

Now auto loan defaults are soaring because the only way to expand was down the income scale--no matter how rich you are, you only need so many friggin' cars!--and the lower you go, the more likely default becomes.

I could be driving a much newer car than the Jeep is. I chose not to buy a new (or newer) vehicle after securing full-time employment, for several reasons, but the main one was that I simply did not want a car payment. In light of how things shook out I'm glad I didn't, but certainly I mulled the proposition.

Ultimately I decided I want an Elio. I hope I'll be able to buy one. (Read: I hope they don't vanish.)

* * *

I agree, this is not a cure. Novartis has come up with a way of "curing" leukemia, in the sense that you can cure someone of lung cancer by removing his lungs.

If you want to keep him alive after that, he'll have to be on a heart-lung bypass machine, but hey! you cured his lung cancer, right?

Lest you think I am using reducto ad absurdum, this "cure" for leukemia destroys the body's ability to make white blood cells, leaving the patient (almost wrote "victim" there) with a severe immune deficiency requiring a custom treatment that costs at least $10,000 per dose.

For the rest of his life.

Absent that treatment, a mild case of the sniffles could be fatal.

It looks as if this treatment is a "last resort" kind of thing, but anything that does not leave you both disease-free and not in need of further treatment is not a cure. You can save a life with it, but to be honest I'm not sure what kind of life the patient has when he has to fear every possible minor infection and pay through the nose for the stuff required to keep him alive, for the rest of his life.

Oh, wait, it's worse. I read the article Denninger links to, to confirm the costs.

First, the treatment itself costs half a million dollars. Second, the follow-up costs $10,000-ish per dose, and a dose is required about once a month. That's $120,000 per year.

Here's the thing: "half a million dollars" is a hell of a lot of money. No one will expect a parent to balk at the price tag when their kid's life is on the line, but keeping in mind the pricing model for drug companies in the United States (which approximates "what the market will bear plus 150% for insurance adjustments") I have to wonder how much of that half-million is pure profit. Certainly no insurance company will cover the treatment, as it reeks of "experimental" because of the fact that each dose must be hand-tailored for the patient. Thanks to the provisions of Obamacare, insurance companies have to cover pre-existing conditions, so hyper-expensive treatments like that will decidedly not be covered lest people shop around for companies that will cover it: "Okay, here's my ten thousand dollar premium for this year. Now, my kid has leukemia and the cure will cost half a million. Pay up." They'd go out of business.

The drug companies don't mind you having to pay them $120k per year for immune therapy, of course, and they know that when it comes to peoples' children the sky is the limit. I'd bet a finsky these treatments don't cost nearly that much in other countries.

* * *

I think that when a cop fails to have his body cam turned on, and an incident occurs involving that officer shooting someone dead, that cop should be summarily fired. Period.

Let me give an alternate scenario explaining why I think this is so. Let's say you have security cameras all over your house. Every room has one and the system records 24/7. Then, one night, there's a break-in, and you shoot the burglar dead in the living room. When the police ask to see the security footage, well, hot damn, the video camera in that room turns out not to have recorded anything that day. Somehow the system mysteriously just didn't record anything from that camera, even though all the other cameras worked fine. What do you think happens?

Well, it depends on how eager the DA is for your scalp, I suppose, but "obstruction of justice" would not be out of the question even if other charges weren't filed. The cops could impound the recorder and have a guy go through it to see if and when there were any video files from that camera, and if so, when they were deleted.

In the case of cops whose body cameras just happened not to have been turned on, it's negligence at the very least. You can't prove, absent a witness, that the cop reformatted the SD card in the thing after a bad shoot and claimed he'd forgotten to turn it on. I'm not saying that's what happened, here.

But it's awful funny how often it happens that there is what appears to be, to any reasonable inspection, a "bad shoot", and--oh, well, god damn, my body camera wasn't on! The camera in the car wasn't on! Holy shit! There's no impartial record of what actually happened! Shucky darn! I guess we'll just have to rely on what the other cops say about the incident.

Because we know that cops never lie to protect other cops, especially when an innocent civilian is shot dead after reporting a crime.

Best remedy: each day, before starting duty, cop signs out a body camera and must wear it the entire shift. The guy who signs it out to him is the one who turns it on, and when the cop signs out the camera he verifies that it's on and recording (and his signature, in part, certifies that he did that, date and time). The cop cannot turn the camera off, nor can he stop recording for any reason, nor can he access the chip it records to, nor alter or delete recordings, nor cover the lens. When his shift is over, he goes back to the camera cage, where the camera guy verifies that the camera is still on and recording, and that it recorded a full shift's worth of data, and the SD card from it (which has a serial number on it) is stowed and logged with the cop's badge number and time and date of shift. Chips are erased and reused after 60 days.

If the record has been tampered with--turned off during the shift, lens covered for a significant period, whatever--that's a suspension without pay while the matter is investigated. Mechanical failures would mean he was reinstated and retroactively paid. Deliberate obfuscation of the record for any reason would result in immediate termination.

This prescription is probably not 100% practical, but something has to change so that cops are more accountable for their actions on duty. The mere presence of body cameras is not enough; cops must be held responsible for them and their evidence, else they mysteriously fail to provide the evidence they are meant to provide.

And somehow they never seem to be off when their recordings exonerate cops.

* * *

Sanctuary city! So you refuse to prosecute vagrancy and illegal immigration. You end up with junk campers parked on your streets, full of fleas, lice, bedbugs, and rodents, and the towing companies decide it's not worth towing them for you because they can't recoup the cost of towing them away. By definition the people who owned those heaps can't afford to get them out of hock, so they abandon them. They're ridden with filth and vermin, so you can't sell them to anyone.
...[In LA] there is only one salvage yard where they can send the motor homes that are unclaimed to get junked, but that yard refuses to accept the vehicles unless towing employees have removed the 30-40 gallon propane tanks connected to the campers, taken out the refrigerators, which contain ammonia, and emptied out the sewer tanks.

[Towing company president] Sommers wrote that they do not have the licenses nor are they "equipped to do this kind of work."
Nobody wants to deal with the hazardous waste from them. Junk propane tanks still contain flammable gas, which you have to know how to deal with; anhydrous ammonia is poisonous and hazardous to deal with in quantity, and the sewage tanks are their own nightmare.

And thanks to our hyper-regulated country, you need licensing and certification to do things like work on refrigeration systems, anyway. You can't just vent the refrigerant to atmosphere (that's illegal, of course) which means you have to pump it out and store the refrigerant prior to disposal. And pay for the disposal. So right there you're looking at a significant cost to any company that finds itself with a large inventory of junk campers and motorhomes. They literally have to pay to get rid of them.

If you're running a towing company, it is outside of your scope of business to be equipped and staffed for operations requiring that you scavenge and store hazardous waste. One or two a year, you can fold that into the cost of doing business, but when those numbers climb into dozens, no.

One company that is still towing the derelicts has "...had to flea bomb their offices every Sunday."

So, no--not blaming the companies, here.

The problems of vagrancy--fleas, lice, etcetera--is why it used to be illegal. It's a public health issue. Of course now people are "sensitive" and "compassionate" and the result is worse public health conditions for everyone.

* * *

I have so many things to do. I'd better get going.

#5741: Oh, COME ON

Working in the attic today, I decided I'd do more work on the attic over the garage. I'm glad I did, but I'm also really unhappy about something.

More old clothes, more bills--a box of bills from 1968!--and all sorts of friggin' trash that I now have no idea what to do with. Now I'm starting to get into the crates from my grandmother's house--actual wood shipping boxes--and the ratio of pure trash is dropping slightly. I found a single chair that would be good if reupholstered. I found more pieces of random furniture parts. I brought down box after box after box, some empty, some full of junk, some with a mixture of trash and not-junk.

I say "not-junk" because there's now a pile of things which may actually have some utility, so I can't throw them away. But the pile of scrap metal is bigger, and I may take that to the dump tomorrow.

Bag after bag after bag of pure trash. I found more issues of Saturday Evening Post, moth-eaten and rodent-chewed. The crate that contained them is worth more than the magazines were. In a bag of old clothes I found what I think was once Raggedy Ann, with repairs made to her face with I think cellophane tape such that she looked like a burn victim. That was the most horrifying doll I've ever seen:

EDIT No, you know what? I originally embedded it here, but that image is going to give me nightmares if I leave it. You can click on this if you really want to see it. END EDIT

All told, another few hours' work that cleared out a good chunk of attic. I didn't bother counting the boxes that came down from the attic; I just carried 'em down, one at a time, and sorted their contents.

But I said I was really unhappy about something.

See, this time I got smart: I took a clamp light and a fan up into the attic, and so I could remain up there longer and see farther. And after Mrs. Fungus got home with the components for dinner, I took one last look at the remaining pile on the south side of the access, and saw something discouraging.

Lumber. Lots of it. All stacked up on the rafters, probably about half as much volume as the pile of crap I'm currently sorting through, not neatly but kind of haphazardly.

A pile of friggin' wood.

I looked at that, and sighed, and gave up for the night.

The problem here is that there's so much CRAP stored in the attic I don't know what to do about it all. It's too much to stage and dispose of in the trash; if I do that, it'll be months before it's all gone. I mean, as it stands right now, I have six large bags of trash lined up plus the two trash barrels full, and the recycling barrel is full of brittle cardboard from all the ancient boxes I've pulled down and emptied into the other two barrels. And that's the result of a mere eight hours of work, clearing perhaps a hundred square feet of attic space out of the entire house's attic. The attic extends across the garage and the entire house, and down the dogleg, so it's more than fifteen hundred square feet.

Fortunately it's not all covered with junk. But the area above the garage and living room is--was--simply jam-packed with USELESS F_ING SHIT such that in eight hours I've cleared a 10 by 10 foot area.

And that was before I saw the lumber.

Anyway, after dinner, I got to thinking: back when I lived in Cedar Rapids, and my friend's father was committed to a nursing home, we cleaned out his house of all the crap he had accumulated--hoarder, of course--and to dispose of that, we rented a truck from Menard's, loaded all the trash into it, and took it to the city dump. Truck weighed coming in, dumped the stuff, truck weighed going out, difference charged for--and the trash was gone. Easy-peasy.

Why can't I do that here?

Granted, that was Iowa, where they still have sensible laws, but I should at least check to see if it can be done, right? WTF, it doesn't cost much to rent a trailer; if the landfill people in Illinois allow it, I could fill the trailer with the old clothes and the other useless shit and haul it there and dump it, and it's out of my hair forever!

I could put a lot of trash into a 4x8 utility trailer.

So, went to Googe, found the landfill that serves the Fungal Vale, and I have a phone number to call. I'll ask if it's possible for me to execute the plan I outlined in my prior paragraph, and if it is--then I'll get all the junk out of the attic and plan to haul it away next week.

Old clothes, rodent- and moth-eaten papers, useless junk--all of it, all the obvious trash, leaving only the things that people might want to keep. Things which may have utility or sentimental value. And, of course, things that may actually have intrinsic value such as the punch bowl and whatever other treasures may be up there. I think my paternal grandfather's radio is up there; that will go on the "review" pile, and there are some other things like that; but no one needs a box of bills from 1968 or baby clothes from 1962 that have ended up stained and full of rodent feces. This old, bent-up aluminum pot is getting recycled; that set of aluminum saucepans goes on "review".

Like that.

I found a varmint trap up there. I mean, an actual, steel jaw trap, like you see in cartoons. It's rusted shut. I don't know if I'll bother, but I think I could get it working again with PB Blaster and a little elbow grease. Like the bottle capper I found; it took some penetrating lube to get it working, but you could cap bottles all day with it now. Works a treat. It's very old; it's in the "review" pile because someone in my family might want it.

The electric mixer I found--I recall Mom using it for years, until something went wrong with the motor. I'd been looking for it, because I was thinking it was a MixMaster. It turned out to be a Sunbeam rather than a MixMaster, worse luck; if it were a MixMaster there'd be a good chance I could get it fixed, in which case I'd keep it. This one's probably fit only for scrap.

And there's still lots more up there.

Well, I'll get it out, and once the trash is hauled away I can re-sort the remainder for things which aren't worth anything and get rid of it, too. Repeat until the pile is manageable and contains only useful and/or valuable things (even if the value is merely sentimental, as with the old scrapbooks I found).

We'll get there. The hard part is not to get discouraged--but if my landfill idea pans out, that'll go a long way towards completing this project in a reasonable time. We'll see.