Undoomer for Friday
1. A compilation of useless web sites.
2. A compilation of useful advice. Some are great, some are iffy.
3. E. Messily gave me the homework assignment to listen to this song and report back, but I haven't been able to bring myself to do it. Someone do my homework for me and report back.
A doomer moment
Now that we've solved homeless encampments, fentanyl, and sex-trafficking, let's bask in the functionality of those established programs to help the poor.
"Dear FAMILY OF FRANCES RUHL," the letter begins. "We have been informed of the death of the above person, and we wish to express our sincere condolences."
The letter gets right to the point: Iowa's Medicaid program had spent $226,611.35 for Ruhl's health care, and the government was entitled to recoup that money from her estate, including nearly any assets she owned or had a share in. If a spouse or disabled child survived Ruhl, the collection could be delayed until after their death, but the money would still be owed.
The notice said the family had 30 days to respond.
Is that how medicaid is supposed to work? It seems unseemly.
And this article is from 2017, but I was recently reminded of it:
The U.S. Constitution says people too poor to afford a lawyer should be appointed one paid for by taxpayers. And Unterburger -- who said he was wrongly accused -- was told he would be. So he was surprised when, years later, a bill arrived saying he owed thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees.
"If I'd known they were going to charge me," he said, "I would have spent more time screening lawyers."
In Texas and across the country, defendants are sometimes asked to repay part or all of the costs of their court-appointed lawyer through a practice called recoupment. Texas counties recouped more than $11 million from poor defendants in 2016, 4.5 percent of the total amount spent on indigent defense statewide.
Everything may be terrible; it's possible.
So, most of you live in enlightened states with state income taxes, whereas Texas only has property taxes, which are therefore higher. There are various homestead exemptions, and they're debating raising them higher. That's not particularly crazy to me in the abstract - sure, there are plenty of poor people who do own their own homes.
But I was listening to a city council budget workshop, where they were explaining what it will do to the city budget if the state mandates a higher exemption. It occurs to me: why aren't tax brackets for property taxes a thing? If you can discount the first $50K of property value, why not have a higher tax rate kick in for all properties valued above $1,000,000? That seems like a reasonable way to spare poor old home-owners on a fixed income, while not destroying your ability to provide core services.
(I don't know why I'm phrasing it as a question. Obviously Texas just smooches rich buttholes all day long and would never. And destroying cities' ability to provide core services is an additional perk. But it seems like a nice fantasy.)
(Lately I'm feeling extra glum about this state at the moment, for so many reasons. But one of them is definitely our district considering firing up the Texas School Marshal Program in our district, so that teachers and admin can apply to carry a gun at school. Sounds like a swell idea:
Stuteville explained that he took off the gun and placed it in a stall while using the restroom. The firearm remained in the bathroom unattended for about 15 minutes before it was found.
"There was never a danger other than the obvious," Stuteville claimed last week.
A student found the gun and told a teacher, who then told another kid, "Can you go and see if it's a real gun?" and the father of the second kid - who had recently moved from Uvalde - is rightfully angry about all this.
I am feeling like a frog sitting in increasingly hot water.)
Grounding some bogeymen
I have two the same question, more or less, about two topics: sex trafficking and fentanyl overdoses.
A. Both of these have a very high level of public panic. Airports are covered in "if you see something, say something" posters against sex trafficking, and I see PSAs about how little fentanyl it takes to kill you, etc. Also, I'm the target audience for fear-mongering - I have older children/younger teenagers who will be navigating this big world on their own soon. There is going to be news media aimed at trying to freak me out, just like a decade ago I was the target for articles about BPA in toddler spoons and baby bottles. That doesn't make it a phony phenomenon, but it does make it harder to evaluate.
B. Both of these also have lefty types debunking the hype, but not in a way that's caught on and become low-key mainstream. You're Wrong About did an episode (or two?) unpacking the most common statistics behind sex trafficking, but my memory is that they sometimes seemed overly literal about what should count as sex trafficking and then sometimes overly general about what shouldn't, and I felt that the generic bogeyman hadn't yet been unpacked. The Daily Show had a segment about how the media being ridiculous about the pretense that getting a few particles of fentanyl on your fingers will kill you. But what if you've got a little bit on your hand and then you unthinkingly lick your finger (after eating a moldy m&m)? Is that also ridiculous? I have no idea!
C. Finally, both of these are worlds where I have zero first hand experience. In general, it's very important to believe people who describe experiences that are different from yours.* So if some news venue trots out someone describing a horrifying trafficking or fentanyl experience, my instinct is to believe them, but it's hard to know how to extrapolate that in terms of how widespread the problem is. We do have a lot of young people dying around here of fentanyl overdoses, but it's hard to know if it's a reporting trend or an actual change. It's impossible to know if they were offered pot or something mild, or if they were already in the throes of an addiction that had them willing to ingest unknown substances.
So here are my two possibilities:
Case 1: these are both white-fear bogeymen, a la stranger-danger. The people who are vulnerable to sex-trafficking and fentanyl overdoses are literally the same exact populations that we continuously neglect, and the answer is the same as it's always been: to start providing a much higher level of service to vulnerable populations. Fentanyl and sex trafficking are not really the biggest problems that we need to address with these groups - they're part of a constellation of problems including generational poverty, abuse, trauma and addiction, etc.
Case 2: the impact of fentanyl and sex-trafficking has extended beyond traditionally vulnerable groups. The media generally does not cover traditionally vulnerable groups very well, so these topics are media sensations because they've actually left the realms of traditionally vulnerable groups and are making a dent in middle class or more privileged lives.
If I had to guess, sex-trafficking is Case 1, and fentanyl is Case 2? I have no idea.
* I'm coming around to a belief that that's what fundamentally makes someone Republican: if someone describes a life experience that you don't relate to, do you believe them or do you think they're lying to manipulate you? Are you capable and willing to empathize with someone who has gone through an experience you've never had?
Guest Post - Art Markets
LW writes: Here is what art market analysts see as two art markets.
But maybe they don't know about the market in comic book original art, this also sold for 100k (The whole auction's listing is here.)
At some level this seems like laughing at expensive sneakers or sports cars, an ungenerous assessment of the collectors. But the earnestness and style of how either contemporary art or high art from dead artists is sold and discussed (btw, even the realized prices of high art are a commodity-- want to find out how much a Piranesi or Essenhigh print has sold for? You have to pay) is really different from comic art. Artworks (or expensive sports cars or sneakers) are social capital, so nothing is surprising-- there exist factions in collector communities for rare cactuses or bakelite household goods. But when I looked I was kind of surprised by the prices of comic art. For many years the originals from which comic books were set were discarded after production, almost always the property of the publisher rather than the artist. A market started in the eighties, but pages were really cheap then. What's most expensive now correlates pretty closely with the movies being made out of superheroes, the first appearance of a character existing in film affects price very much more than much of anything else. The buyers are likely boomers or X-ers.
Maybe all of these thoughts are just a retread of the at this point well-documented Roy Lichtenstein ripoff of a bunch of talented artists constrained by their commercial environment, most notably Russ Heath. He was quite good, he did many years of several of DC's war comics, he suggested the surreal framing of the haunted tank, a comic which interspersed normal wartime action stories with dialogues between the tank's commander and the ghost of JEB Stuart.
Here are nice pages he did; an unexceptional page of his work goes for about 2k now.
I like this stuff broadly speaking, another favorite of mine whose work gets listed in the same markets is a pulp illustrator, Virgil Finlay.
Heebie's take: That last link is really wonderful.