Friday, March 25, 2011

Maxed Out

Well, maybe we should all just step back and look at the bigger picture. Last night my best friend and I watched a movie called Maxed Out, a movie made before the financial crisis. In it there is a picture of the National Debt Clock sitting at 7.3 trillion dollars. About 6 years later, it's nearly doubled to 14 trillion, increasing at well over one trillion dollars per year. The link above has another number that I also wonder about, the "US Total Debt" which "includes household, business, state and local governments, financial institutions, and the Federal Government" and is sitting at $55.2 trillion or $676,000 per family. With a debt and deficit so unfathomably large, is there really any hope of paying it off? I don't see any signs of deficit reduction either: it seems like Democrats don't want to talk about it because they don't want to threaten any government programs; meanwhile, Republicans might talk about cutting programs, but in reality they won't touch most of the core budget including national "defense", and any spending cuts they do make will be cancelled out by tax cuts.

U.S. federal politicians, for the most part, seem not to care about the big picture. Oh, they might say they care for the cameras. But I think they believe that their jobs in the House and Senate are just that--jobs. They are not there primarily to serve Americans; rather their main concern is to keep their jobs, and it's hard to do that without serving their corporate sponsors. The sponsors don't want spending cuts--after all, every spending program benefits the private sector somehow. The sponsors do want tax cuts--especially corporate tax cuts and Bush tax cuts.

Surely this can't continue forever. Sooner or later, creditors will demand their pound of flesh. My guess is that China can already dictate US foreign policy toward it. I haven't studied history enough to guess what will come next, but you know the saying, "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it"? The "doomed" part has me worried.

Aww, heck. The big picture sucks. Let's stop looking at it again.

My life sucks.

Things haven't been going my way recently. My own life seems like train wreck about to happen. And the news lately, oh Lord it's depressing, isn't it? I mean, obviously there's the gigantic earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Then there's all this crazy stuff that happened while I was on vacation last month... the violence in Libya and Bahrain... and there were a bunch of stories I saw on Slashdot I thought were important enough to blog about, but I can no longer find the stories, as Slashdot seems to have deleted its front-page archive. The only way to go a month in the past would be to click "many more" on the main page about 60 times, waiting for the older stories to load between each click. And thanks to my awful memory, I cannot remember a single one of the stories I wanted to blog about.

Which brings me to my own life. Which sucks. I met a sweet girl on the nude cruise last month. We became so close, I think she loved me. I knew that she wasn't "the one", so I avoided using the word "love" myself, but I did love her, just not in a I-want-to-spend-my-life-with-you kind of way. She just wasn't intellectual at all, and I really need someone that can explore issues with me intellectually. Nor was she interested in programming or linguistics or anything geeky. I don't know if she was interested in politics, but--while the evidence is ambiguous--I suspect now that however she leans politically, it's probably quite far from me. But I enjoyed the way she talked about the ordinary things that happened in her day, and about her family and extended family. She seemed to really enjoy the simple things in life. In that way I wish I was more like her. While I worry constantly about whether I'm accomplishing anything with my life, and whether I can manage to give to the world enough more than I take, and while I am pained by the evil and suffering in the world, and while I wonder why people don't strive more to build a better society, and love strangers more, and be more rational and less biased, and more willing to question...

Well, she just lives her own life and doesn't seem to worry about anything else. I love seeing her smile and laugh and talk, even if my crap memory forgets most of what she says. She just started a blog with the most adorable font ever... I'd like to link to it, but I don't know if she would want that. But you know, while I religiously avoid wasting anything, she has no problem ordering more food than she can eat and throwing the rest away. I disagree with doing that, pretty strongly, but I think it may indicate why she seemed so happy. It's Hakuna Matata in practice: living without worries.

After the cruise she announced she was going to fly to Calgary to see me, choosing, a little while later, 10 days in July. I offered to pay half.

But then we had a little fight. Over something so embarrasingly trivial. Not trivial to me, mind you, but to most people the issue of the inhumane conditions of Bradley Manning's detention probably isn't worth ruining a relationship over. It's just that to me the idea of solitary confinement for seven months is absolutely terrifying; unless he's at least given an ample supply of books to read, it absolutely qualifies as torture. (Unfortunately there is no word on what he's provided with in there.) I personally relate to Bradley Manning, because although I've never leaked classified information, I probably would consider becoming a whistleblower if I discovered evidence of criminal activity that my employer was covering up. While I do question the wisdom of publicly releasing 1,100 to 250,000 classified diplomatic cables (depending on how you count them), I do believe that releasing the Collateral Murder video was fully justified, after the military took the position that the pilots had done nothing wrong. I told her the story of what happened in the video, of how about 12 people were killed (including a pair of reporters) and how two children were wounded.

In addition to solitary confinement, he's reportedly not allowed to exercise (I know that would drive me insane--my body hates to be inactive for long periods of time) and made to sleep naked without a blanket or pillow, which might also be tough to tolerate. My outrage over this treatment of an American prisoner in America, and my active imagination about what permanent solitary confinement would feel like, kept me awake for perhaps three hours one night and another three on a different morning. I explained this to her, but she was unmoved. She couldn't get past the fact that what he had done was illegal. Nor did it matter that he hadn't had a trial or been convicted--she said something about some Iraqi or Iraqis having brutally and repeatedly raped an American soldier, as if to provide some justification. I was baffled.

Her dad, evesdropping on the conversation, jumped in to support the way Manning was treated. They agreed that what he had done was treason, and entertained the notion that death was an appropriate punishment. Her dad began to talk about how people were treated like Manning all the time, and how you could be imprisoned in the US indefinitely for "contempt" of something... contempt of court? I forget what he said exactly, but his tone of voice was unmistakably dismissive. His message seemed to be "big whoop, this is how we do things in America, get over it". He decried the release of any information deemed secret by the US government, but he also said he wouldn't believe that Manning was really forced to sleep naked unless he saw a "video" of it. I pointed out that a video of that, besides not being fit for public release anyway, might well be classified. At the time, though, I wasn't sure how to convey the irony that he considered the release of secret material to be a serious crime, while simultaneously demanding to see material that might be secret before he would believe that the government/military was doing something wrong. Heck, I still don't know what to say. If you don't get it, you don't get it. Personally I'd love to see a long time-lapse video of a week of his detention. It might clear up this controversy nicely.

I did make a mistake about him being naked, by the way. Reports actually say that he is stripped nude only temporarily for some sort of embarrassing inspection every night, and he was only made to sleep semi-nude (with underwear) for two nights. Anyway...

As I had explained to her earlier, my new CPAP machine didn't seem to be working for me, and I was especially tired because this issue kept me awake a couple of extra hours that morning. Certainly, I was too tired for a charged political/moral conversation directed against my beliefs. At some point I felt the anger rising, announced that I'd talk to them later, and cut off the conversation out of frustration. A little while later I sent a text message: "Talking to you and your dad is really disheartening. Get back to me when you learn empathy."

Well, as you might imagine she didn't take that very well.

We've exchanged several emails since then, mine long and explanatory--but not apologetic--hers short and terse. Her latest reads, "Thanks for the invite to to Calgary, but at this time I need to pass on it. [...] my parents don't want me traveling by myself since i had the surgery."

My instinct tells me that's not the real reason, though. I think what this really means is "our relationship is over".

I have been tired almost every day since last September or so. Productivity at work has been way down, especially after I returned from the cruise. The thing I'm supposed to be working on is an intersection of technologies I've never really used: WCF or TcpClient/TcpListener and/or DCOM (I'm still not sure which to use; I'd prefer WCF but I can't seem to comprehend it), and Visual FoxPro. With my low mental capacity and depression over the fight with Hillary (that's her name), it's just not working and I'm falling ever further behind. For a separate project, I have some really cool ideas about how to write a universal "flick list" control sort of like the iPhone has, but in the form of a Windows Forms control, with automatic animations of changes to the list. But I'm having trouble fleshing out some key ideas.

Meanwhile, I think I have enough health problems for a 50-year old. Everything from a weird knee that makes crackling noises, to a tight ass, to thin skin. Well, one of those is not actually a medical condition. I was at the dentist for a filling the other day, and as the dentist had my mouth held open he announced "oh, I see a shadow. We'll have to do another filling" and proceeded to charge me double price to put two holes in my tooth instead of one. That's a total of 7 to 9 fillings (I forget) since I started going to this dentist about 3 years ago, compared with 0 fillings prior to that time. Finally, I have moderate to severe mixed sleep apnea, two-thirds central, for which the $2200 machine I'm trialling is only partially able to correct.

Finally, it's starting to look like I'll never get to have a wife and kids like I wanted. Who really wants to marry an introverted naturist that never cleans his room, hates doing chores, is tired all the time, depressed half the time, has one of the worst-quality memories in the world, and complains about his life on his blog? Who knows, maybe I have bad breath too. I just don't have a woman to tell me so (hmm, I think I phrased that wrong).

Update: I sent a proper apology. She was glad to receive it. But we're still out of touch with each other.