Alarming News: I like Morgan Freeberg. A lot.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: We were following a trackback and thinking "hmmm... this is a bloody excellent post!", and then we realized that it was just part III of, well, three...Damn. I wish I'd written those.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: ...I just remembered that I found a new blog a short while ago, House of Eratosthenes, that I really like. I like his common sense approach and his curiosity when it comes to why people believe what they believe rather than just what they believe.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is an intriguing guy...[he] asks great questions and answers others with style, flair, reason and wit. On the blogroll he goes. Make him a part of your regular blogospheric reading. I certainly will.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is brilliant.
Common Sense Junction: Misha @ Anti-Idiotarian never ceases to amaze me. He keeps finding other good blogs. I went over to A.I. this morning for my daily Misha fix and he had found this guy named Morgan Freeberg in Fair Oaks, California, that has a blog, House of Eratosthenes. Freeberg says its "The Blog That Nobody Reads" but it may now become the blog that everybody reads.
Jaded Haven: Good God, Morgan, you cover a topic from front to back with a screwy thoroughness I find mind boggling. I'm in awe of your thought proccesses, my friend, you're an exceptional talent. You start by throwing in the kitchen sink, tie in someone's syphilitic uncle, bend around a rip tide of brilliance and bring it all home in a neat, diamond dripping package of an exceptionally readable moment of damn fine wordsmithing. I love reading you.
Mein Blogovault: Make "the Blog that No One Reads" one of your daily reads.
Philmon: When Morgan meanders, stick with him - he's got a point and it'll be worth it in the end. He's not a hit-and-run snarky quip kind of guy. The pieces all fall into place like tumblers in a lock and bang! He's opened a cognative door for you.
Rightlinx: Morgan at House of Eratosthenes is one of the best writers out there. I read him nearly every day because he manages to provide an interesting perspective, even though I don't always agree.
Poetic Justice: Cletus! Ah gots a laiv one fer yew...
You’ve heard the expression “there’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything,” haven’t you? Well, the older I get, the more I start to think that perhaps that’s a relative thing, after all. That there is no absolute right answer.
That sounds awfully new-age and hippy, I know. Perhaps it is. But take, for an example, traffic. Nobody ever says “I wish I could get the hang of this driving thing, everybody else is so good at it and I can’t figure it out.” Nobody says that. Nobody says they’re average, either, and very few people admit they ever made a mistake unless said mistake is in the distant past. We’re all a bunch of James Bonds out there. But when is the last time someone could have benefited from some advice from you — or a swift kick in the ass? Probably the last time you were on the road, right? Everyone else is a dumbass, you’re the only one who has it all together.
My favorite pet peeve is the asshole who wants to go ninety miles an hour in a sixty-five mile speed zone, is always behind me. And the slow-ass old fart who wants to play amateur traffic cop, making sure everyone drives at a safe speed, seems to always be in front of me. I never get to see Mister Rocket-Butt zip along on his merry way, to come almost to a screeching halt behind the lethargic old goat in the Cadillac. That would be entertaining. No, I seem to always be sandwiched between them.
Only with the wisdom and maturity acquired through hundreds of thousands of miles of driving and many years — since I’m better than Bo & Luke Duke and Mario Andretti combined, aren’t we all — that I’ve come to be fully conscious of the fact that the old fart thinks I’m just as big of an asshole, as does the caffeine-buzzed stress puppy eating my back bumper. The former thinks I’m going too fast and the latter thinks I’m too slow. They’re both right. And I’m right about them. It’s relative. The only absolute is the posted speed limit, and since everyone’s ignoring that, does it even matter?
And after pissing away all of my twenties and most of my thirties, I’ve come to appreciate that this is a metaphor for life. If you were to make a dozen clones of that sleepy old goat doing 45 miles and put them on the freeway, the result would be — pretty good. Until someone came along who wanted to drive faster than 45, you’d have the safest stretch of highway for miles around. And if we were to Xerox several copies of Rocketman back there, the result would be pretty good too. It’s the inequality of speeds that causes the problem. That’s when simply driving down a half-mile of pavement starts to demand all kinds of strategic maneuvering that it shouldn’t.
Life is like that, in that it gets complicated not because of what we have decided to do, but from the difference between the way we want to do our thing, and how the other guy wants to do his stuff. The guy who’s never held a job, gets drunk all day, doesn’t pay child support, thinks he’s doing everything just right. He’s got problems, of course; but he figures his problems are caused by the cop that busted him for loitering, the district attorney who learned about the child support delinquency and decided to go after him, and the judge who sentenced him. You know, in his own world, he’s right. Where he comes from, people don’t take responsibility. They push it off somewhere else. So the problem comes not from his refusal to accept responsibility — they come from the expectation of others that he should do so. He has is own expectations: His ex-wife should marry some hard-working lunchbox carrying guy, who will cheerfully take on the responsibility of raising another man’s kids. This would free him up to be left alone to smoke grass and drink hooch all day, since, after all, that’s what he’s used to. That’s the way it’s supposed to work: Responsibility for those who accept it, and not for those who don’t. Purely optional.
Who cares where we would all be, if we all coped with life the way he does? How does that matter? Who ever said we should all do everything the same way, anyway?
Maybe that’s the answer.
Over time, I’ve formed the theory that, just as it’s the speed differential that makes traffic unsafe, perhaps the lifestyle differential — differential in our expectations of how people accept their responsibilities — is the source of all complaining. And for the time being, when I say “all” I do mean that. As theories like this are refined, absolute statements like that tend to whither away and get pruned off fairly early, so this is a fairly nascent theory. But so far, the absolute statement has yet to be pruned. I’ve made a point of checking all complaining against my new theory, as I become aware of the complaining. My complaining, other people’s complaining…liberals complaining about President Bush.
So far, it all seems to fit. Where someone complains about something, it can be traced to two classes of people coming into social contact, who should have been kept isolated. Yin, and yang. Some of us believe in personal responsibility, and others don’t. Thinking, versus feeling. Opinions based on personal observations and logical cogitation, and opinions formed to please others.
Just like speed-demon and lead-butt. If all the world was full of mommas-boys who drank moonshine and smoked grass and screwed around all day, everything would be fine. We’d have no justice system to speak of, illiteracy would be rampant, the streets would be full of filty bastards with dirty diapers half-hanging off their butts — but no dead bodies. Maybe we got something here. Just treat people like matter and antimatter, making sure that never the ‘twain shall meet. Build some big-ass wall separating everybody.
The government of Porter County, Indiana, needs to be on the dirty-diaper, feelings-matter-more side of this wall (although to be fair about it nearly all county and state governments would likely be better off joining them there.) That isn’t just my assertion. They’ve admitted it. Freely. Well, kind of freely, in that circumstances have forced them to admit it.
Porter County is not “Yin,” they are “Yang.” As a Yin male who believes in personal responsibility, thinking over feeling, pulling in lots of cash, spending only what is needed to address the needs but spending it wisely — I have stuck my pecker in so many female Yangs, I know a Yang when I see it. Why do I think Porter County is Yang?
They’re in financial trouble — but Yins get in financial trouble all the time, so let’s look further. Are they in financial trouble because of revenue issues? Businesses leaving? Employment down? Or perhaps something on the expenditure side? Catastrophic road damage? Maybe asset/liability management issues? Long-term investment in unstable commodities? Failure to lock in favorable interest rate on a loan? No…they’re in the financial trouble you only get into, when you manage finances the way the Yang manage finances.
…guided by its computers, the county expected to collect taxes on this startling new abundance, and other taxpayers were asked to pay a little less. Budgets were built around the phantom figures. [emphasis mine]
“And that’s when the poop hit the fan,” the treasurer said.
Eighteen taxing districts from the city of Valparaiso, the county and the Valparaiso schools now find themselves in the position of having to return to the county an advance of $3,090,287.33 that was never collected.
That’s $1,700,192.51 from the Valparaiso Community Schools, which had counted on the money for their $38 million 2006 budget.
It’s also $1,045,527.33 back from the city of Valparaiso (2006 budget: $21.3 million), which had been mounting an aggressive city beautification effort, complete with street resurfacing and sidewalk repairs.
“You can imagine the panic it caused here,” said City Administrator Bill Hanna. “You won’t find us buying laptops.”
Still, no matter what anybody says, “We’re not even thinking about laying people off,” he said.
But that cracked sidewalk? Might have to wait until next year.
Budgets were built around the phantom figures.
Let me repeat that. Budgets were built around the phantom figures.
Hey…this is the way things work at nearly all county governments, I’m sure. In fact, I doubt like hell you can find a county government that doesn’t operate this way. But it strikes me as a little bit odd. There were phantom figures to begin with. Rosy figures. Happy figures. But phantom figures…which means, they ultimately had to dissipate into a cloud of smoke. The wealth was never there.
The strange part is, because of the phantom figures, the cracks in the sidewalk won’t get fixed. And yet, had it not been for the phantom figures, with all the “real” stuff being kept as it was, the sidewalk probably would have been fixed. I mean, that’s what we’re being told, anyway.
Now how does that happen?
It happens with the way governments tend to treat the word “budget,” and I can’t use the typical conservative-libertarian line, “would you run your own household this way?” The answer to that question, about fifty percent of the time, is…yes. Half the households are Yang households. Maybe a little bit more. That’s one of the defining differences between the Yin, who do things in order to meet previously defined objectives…and the Yang, who do things in order to minimize dissention.
Take a look at how a budget is used by the Yin, who strive to meet defined objectives. You have some things that have to get done, you prioritize them and figure out the dates they have to get done…and you compare it to the money coming in. A “budget” for a particular period, like a month, or a two-week paycheck period, is simply a capturing of all these income-and-outgo events taking place within that period. By capturing that slice of time, the budget simply demonstrates that there will be adequate funding for everything during that slice of time. That’s all. What’s left over, is left over. The objectives having been met, you sit on the surplus in case something bad happens. That’s the way a Yin handles a budget.
A Yang budget is prepared differently; the Yang has a different concept of the budgeting period. For the Yang, the period is everything. You start with the revenue, and then you find things to spend it on until it is gone. If the number doesn’t equal zero, you aren’t finished yet. Because if you leave a surplus, someone’s going to feel bad. Someone’s going to have something they think is pretty important, that is being left undone. And they’ll be ticked when they find out you could pay for it, but you’re keeping the money locked up until something “important” happens, because they feel that their thing is already pretty important.
So you make everybody feel good, by getting rid of the money. Then, at least, you can tell everyone that, shoot, I’d love to fund it, but I can’t because the money’s all spent. Maybe next year. Same result, but now everybody feels better.
Except in Porter County, they don’t feel better. And the meat-and-potatoes stuff that’s supposed to get fixed, is going unfixed — when nothing bad happened on the expense side, or on the income side.
Nothing happened except disappointment.
What kind of disappointment? Well, now it gets interesting…
In October 2004, give or take, a real estate agent�or maybe a title company employee�checking on the value of the Valparaiso property on a county computer system apparently tapped the wrong key. Officials figure it was an accident.
The unidentified user stumbled onto a restricted screen, and then changed the value of the $120,000 house in the 1100 block of Chicago Street to $400 million.
Trying to reconstruct the event, officials imagine the user looking up and realizing something was amiss, then hitting “escape” to leave the screen. But the new value stayed in the computer, and the property tax bill for the house leaped from $1,500 to the upper seven figures.
“They never reported it to the county that they got a funny screen,” Porter County Treasurer Jim Murphy said of the mystery typist.
Don’t you just love that last quote? Imagine what the liberals would say if President Bush dished out that kind of an excuse about the Valerie Plame scandal. Yeah, see, uh, our computer system that stores confidential information is based on…well, on this kind of honor system. We let people get into it, and we don’t know who they are, and when they change stuff there are no value constraints that sound alarms when they tack on a few extra zeroes on something. But back to the honor system. We have this help desk that takes phone calls from users, where the users report they went to this screen that looked kind of funny. That’s how we ensure the integrity of the database…and this safeguards our national security. Now, this mystery guy didn’t do this, and we don’t know who he is…so there ya go.
Oh my God. Helen Thomas would have an aneurysm.
This is really an interesting story. If you go through it carefully, you should be able to identify about…I think five big huge things that are glaringly out of place, and maybe five more cases of someone not taking responsibility for what happened. But the thing that really impresses me — and I’m sure this just goes to show my naivete about how county governments work — is that a county government apparently ran years and years just going from one fiscal year to the next, taking their rosy prospects for revenue, and making up Yang budgets. Just take number X, and divvy it up. Spend it until it is gone. Make sure it’s gone.
And then they got CAUGHT.
Like I said, I’m not going to sit here and say “household budgets don’t work that way.” Many do. That’s why the divorce rate is so high. That’s why our society can’t save money, unless the money is in a 401k.
But my household budget doesn’t work like that. And I think the purpose of taxes is to raise revenue…the purpose of that revenue, being, to fund expenses — not to be entirely consumed by those expenses.
If everybody thinks the way I do, a lot of our problems go away…and if nobody thinks the way I do, a lot of our problems go away, too. We have problems because people disagree about how to see things. Too much diversity.
But at this point, I’m sure all Porter County is worried about, is the short-term budget crisis. I just hope they find enough time and energy left over to put some security controls on their assessment database. That honor system thing is gonna have to go.
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