Social Security Shenanigans

Here’s a journalistic structure that drives me completely insane:

1. Reporter states a fact.
2. Reporter quotes someone (wrongly) casting doubt on the fact.
3. Reporter kinda shrugs.
4. My head explodes.

Here’s an example from the ProJo’s Neil Downing:

The [Social Security Administration] typically hikes benefit amounts each year, based on the increase in the price of goods and services as measured by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index.

This time, however, there was no increase in inflation for the year ended Sept. 30, government figures show. Thus, Social Security benefits will not change for 2010.

Nicholas Geanacou, 83, of Cranston, a retired rehabilitation counselor, said he had an idea that benefits would remain flat. “I sort of suspected they would pull a fast one,” he said.

He brushed aside talk about inflation. The real reason that there will be no rise in benefits, he said, is unemployment. With fewer people working, fewer people are paying Social Security taxes, reducing the balance in the Social Security trust funds, he said.

Now, Mr. Geanacou is simply wrong. SSA is not “pulling a fast one” and they’re not holding benefits flat because of unemployment. In fact, I’m not sure the SSA exercises any discretion at all about cost-of-living adjustments, because they are statutory and automatic.

So, why is he quoted? Why is this factually wrong speculation in my newspaper? What purpose does it serve?

Update: Here are some intelligent thoughts on the COLA from Drum and Yglesias.

Social Security Shenanigans

A Catholic State?

As you probably know, dear reader, I’m not Catholic, nor am I particularly religious. If you are Catholic, therefore, I wish to apologize in advance if you’re offended by how gut-bustingly ridiculous I find this (A1! above the fold!) article that appeared in today’s Providence Journal:

Pastor drops ban on white dresses for First Communion

The Rev. Joseph Creedon, who has led Christ the King Church for nearly three decades, had forbidden Bailee, and all First Communion recipients, from wearing white.

But he relented yesterday, agreeing to let Bailee receive her First Communion with a sweater covering her dress.

His requirements are that she “disguises the white dress with a blue sweater,” he said, and that her mother, Christine Cota, attend Mass regularly. His change of heart, he said, was guided by prayer.

Father Creedon ended a phone conversation with a reporter abruptly by hanging up when asked to explain his objections to white.

The article is great because it has the form and structure of a news article while being, in actuality, a “no, seriously?” story about a hilariously petty man.

I wonder if it says something about the ProJo or its readership that the in-depth reporting on the tense negotiations over what a seven-year-old may or may not wear to church got higher front-page placement than this article. Seriously, I feel like I’ve been punked.

A Catholic State?

There’s Got To Be A Story There

And in local news…

A couple living on America Way has been charged in connection with a raid in which Jamestown and Narragansett police seized 1½ pounds of marijuana, three guns and materials used in the packaging of marijuana for distribution.

The police said Michael Netro, 54, and his wife, Erin Netro, 26, were each charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver in Friday’s raid.

Drugs, guns, and a 28-year age difference? I bet they had an interesting wedding.

There’s Got To Be A Story There

Artist Gets Probation for Building Secret Mall Apartment

Michael Townsend is an imaginative artist, and one of his projects just got a lot more attention. Mike and his wife were the first people I met when we moved to Providence and they told us about their project of building an apartment and living in the Providence Place Mall. They showed us a video a couple years ago that documented the building and living. After watching the video, Mike told me I shouldn’t really tell anyone, even though I was bursting to, so I’m glad his project can now get the attention it deserves (though sad that Mike got probation out of it (though happy the punishment wasn’t more severe.)) Anyway, check out the video and think about what it would be like to live in a mall for 3 weeks.

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Updated to add this much more informative link from the ProJo including a quotation from a mall spokesman claiming the mall felt “violated”.

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Updated again to clarify story and to add an opinion column from the ProJo praising the mall’s artists-in-residence.

Artist Gets Probation for Building Secret Mall Apartment

Apres (something), le deluge

I admit it, it all started with me being snippy. I was in the upstairs bathroom brushing my teeth, and getting annoyed at the state of cleanliness in the tooth-brushing area. I’m kind of neurotic about the level of sterility I require around my dental implements, and there was just way too much hair on the sink and on the cabinet where the Sonicare lives.

I shouted something passive-aggressive to R— about how “we” need to get better about wiping up after “we” brush “our” hair, and could she please bring me up a roll of paper towels from the basement?

Because my wife is a saint, she did get up to get a roll of paper towels instead of a sharp knife. A few seconds later, I heard her shout, “Fuck!” R— doesn’t use strong language like that often, so I pelted down the stairs, through the kitchen, over at least one cat, and through the basement door. I found her standing on the bottom step of the basement stairs and overlooking a shallow but wide lake where once there was concrete floor.

I think we both just stared in shock — “It was dry last night!” — for a minute or two before (gingerly) leaping into action. We rescued the leaves for the dining room table (a very nice wedding gift), four wooden kitchen chairs, my guitar and recording equipment, the cat litter box, and the vacuum cleaner and then surveyed the damage. Two rugs were total losses as was a ludicrously large pile of empty cardboard boxes. A few other boxes were damp, but their contents were undamaged. Everything else was in plastic bins or on shelves, which just goes to show that my manic affection for shelving and storage paraphernalia is not without benefit.

We called everyone in the Yellow Pages under “flood” and got pretty much the same answer from each. “Hello? Yes, our basement is flooded.”

“Yeeeah. No kidding.” (Apparently we were not alone.)

It had been the day’s plan to drive up to New Hampshire to visit with R—’s mother, and we dithered for a while about whether or not to go. It seemed somehow irresponsible to leave our house while the basement was flooded, but at the same time, what were we going to do about it? Was it going to get any worse? Could we do anything about it if it did? We decided that staring intently at the water level wasn’t going to accomplish anything, so, into the car we went. We’d been driving for about fifteen minutes when we got a call on R—’s cell phone from her step-father, inquiring about the state of our water heater and, more specifically, of its pilot light. The phrase “house filling with gas” was bandied about. I’m pretty sure I overheard him say something about “exploding.” We turned around, turned off the water heater (“Wait, do you know how to light the pilot again?” “Um… let’s go with ‘yes’?”) and set out again.

By the time we returned home that night, the rain had stopped and the streets were eerily dry. I took a peek at the basement (still wet) and spent the next morning running from Home Depot to Home Depot, trying to find a wet/dry vacuum or a pump. (Sample exchange with the Home Depot guy at the tool rental counter: “Do you have a wet/dry shop vac available?” “Ha! No.”) We did purchase a fancy dehumidifier and a shiny new bucket. I admit I was expecting something more dramatic from the dehumidifier. I plugged it in, pushed the “on” button, and listened with satisfaction to its powerful hum. I went upstairs, ate some leftover Thai food, and came back downstairs to find maybe a quarter cup of water in the bucket. I’m not sure what I was hoping would happen, but I think something Moses-like, with the parting of the waters, would have impressed me more.

Sunday afternoon was spent lugging disgustingly wet bits of rug and cardboard out to the curb, opening every available window, and turning on a fan. And now? Now we pretty much just wait for it to dry.

The whole experience was essentially an initial burst of horror followed by a mounting sense of relief. Yes, the basement was flooded, but it was only a few inches. People elsewhere in the state were dealing with feet of water, sometimes up onto the first floor. Nothing that we cared about was damaged. The cleanup took only an hour and a half, and we expect it to dry out in a week. And, oh, yeah, I think things were a little worse down New Orleans-way.

There’s really been far too much water in the news in the past year, and while watching footage from the Katrina/Rita cleanup effort I’d been saying that I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to deal with the mess. Well, now I can begin to imagine. Our completely minor flooding problem was a pain in the ass, and it was kind of gross, and it took a fair amount of effort to deal with what was ruined, and yet we’re just talking about cardboard. Cardboard! We weren’t dragging out ruined clothes, furniture, and photographs. We don’t have to worry about where we’ll sleep. Our house is livable. It isn’t even all that musty.

We already knew how lucky we were, but the reminder didn’t hurt.

Apres (something), le deluge