This Modern Life

Dealing with Zombie Debt

Megan McArdle, illuminating a very real issue:

Very old debts are very difficult to collect, because they disappear from credit reports after seven years, and after a state’s statute of limitation on debt collections expires, the collector can’t even sue. So these wily collectors either hope that the debtor feels bad about being a deadbeat and wants to clear his good name . . . or that he doesn’t know the law. And when hope fails, collectors frequently resort to less savory tactics such as threatening to sue (legal), threatening to have you arrested (it may be legal to make the threat, but they can’t actually make good on it) or impersonating a law enforcement officer who is going to come arrest you (very, very, very illegal).

I had this happen to me about seven years ago: some clown with a very suspicious accent demanding that I pay a debt they claimed I owed the phone company at my last apartment in Pennsylvania. I knew it was preposterous, because when I moved from Pennsylvania I made a determined effort to clear all debts that I had compiled, and even put a note in my Quicken of the “last phone bill” I paid. These fools cared not one wit: They had bought debt that had my name attached to it, they didn’t know any more about it than that, and they were going to call me and harass me over the phone until I gave in.

They did not know who they were dealing with. I told them to go ahead and sue me countless times. They called back. I dealt with them politely. They called back. I told them to perform acts physically impossible and morally heinous. They called back. What they refused to do was provide one solitary piece of evidence that I owed anybody anything.

Finally, I contacted my local Federal Trade Commission office. The gentleman there pointed me in the direction of a piece of legal boiler plate demanding validation of the debt and cessation of contact until debt was validated. I sent it via certified mail so they could not deny they had received it. The next time they called I told them I had sent that letter and would not say anything further on the phone.

A few days later I received a note from them claiming they had passed the imaginary debt on to some other set of sharpies who never contacted me.

Don’t let the bastards bully you.

Mom Claims to be Breastfeeding Her 12-Year-Old Son on ThoughtCatalog, and the Internet Fails Another Satire Test.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when an idea is so crazy that someone advocating it is pulling your leg.

I’ll admit it: when I read this paragraph…

The fact of the matter is, if it weren’t natural, I wouldn’t still produce milk, and it wouldn’t feel good to breast feed my son. Because of the sexual repression of women, there’s little information on the sexual nerve receptors in the nipple and the rest of the titty, but when a baby sucks on a woman’s breast she experiences a bit of sexual pleasure. When a man does it, she receives even more pleasure because the breast is sensitive to facial hair, and now that my son Mason is old enough to grow facial hair, our breastfeeding sessions have become even more pleasurable for me.

…my immediate response was literally this:

wtf-computer-reaction

And when I say “literally”, I mean I held my phone, on which I initially read it, an arm’s length away, saying “what even the f—-!”

But the last line (thankfully) gives the game away…

I’m going to keep breast feeding my son until my body decides that it’s time to stop, and I get the feeling that my body isn’t producing milk because Mason needs it, it’s producing milk because my body knows that we live in a problematic society that discourages women from letting their children suck on their boobs in public. That and I have a hormonal imbalance.

Now, I’m not entirely certain what the target of the satire is. Crunchy Uber-Breastfeedery Anti-Vaccer types, most likely, with perhaps a last snook cocked at Third Wave Feminism. But in any case, at least half the commenters don’t get it. Which is either the sign of good satire, or more evidenced that mass media and irony don’t mix.

Old Internet Article About the Metric System Nails it

Metric is useful for certain things, but Imperial is more human.

Then I start to realize that for length there is a similar problem in the metric system, in that you can’t divide a meter continuously by 2 without getting fractions. In the English system, the rulers are divided by quarters and eighths and 16ths, but the metric ruler is divided into units of ten, so any fraction of that you just have to guess. It is IMPOSSIBLE to divide a meter by three, because you get 0.333333333 etc meters; using the metric ruler, a third on a metric meter doesn’t exist! So then I start to think, hey, THAT’S why there are 12 inches in a foot, you can divide all sorts of ways, by 2, by 3, by 4, by 6, no problem! Cool!

We have this friend who is a carpenter, and I see him, and I say, “Hey, Freddie, when you have a board a meter long, how do you divide it into 3?” And he sort of gives me a funny look, and says why would he want to do that. And I say, well, “How does that work? Because in the metric system, a third of a meter isn’t marked on your ruler so what do you do? Don’t you ever have a board of one meter that you have to divide by three?” And he says, “No.” And I’m sort of crestfallen, and then he adds, we don’t buy boards by the meter, the standard lengths they sell are in 120 centimeters.

Americans are often castigated for not using the metric system. But we do. Where it’s more useful than the Imperial system. Where it isn’t, we don’t.

The “Dear Burrito Guy” Essay, and Why Irony Does not Translate

Over on Medium, a fellow referring to himself as “Lucky Shirt” (twitter handle, I’m assuming), just penned (it just sounds better than “typed”) an amusing rant about his poorly made burrito.

View profile at Medium.com

It’s funny in that over-the-top-rage way that the Internet loves to love; most of the joke is in how ridiculous it is to summon this much dudgeon over a burrito, while acknowledging that we all get hacked off from time to time at lousy customer service. The rest of the joke is in how wittily he does all that.

But the part that interests me is the appendix, added later:

Angry about the tone of this post?

It was a joke. The tone of it is most of that joke. I would never actually get this angry about anything. I hope nobody would. And it makes me sad that I even have to explain this.

Ah, but you do, good sir. You do.

Because working yourself into a towering rage over something unimportant: people do that. People take to the internet to issue jeremiads over how poorly mixed their smoothies were. It is an assumption to think otherwise.

And the worst of all assumptions is that everyone shares yours.

Irony – and indeed, all humor – is based on shared assumptions of what is rational and what is absurd. None of them are global. All of them are contextual. This is why we say “you had to be there.” This is why gags that tickled your parents’ collective ribs seem utterly tired and lame to you. And it is why the Beastie Boys spent the rest of their career denying that they were anything like the guys in “Fight for Your Right to Party”, to no avail.

This doesn’t mean that people who don’t “get it” are stupid, mind. It just means they aren’t in on the gag. Either because they haven’t been introduced to it, or they are confused by the assumptions inherent therein. So, the more over-the-top your irony, the more obvious it is to you that no one could take this seriously, the more it needs a disclaimer warning against exactly that.

Because IRONY DOES NOT TRANSLATE TO MASS MEDIA. Irony is a wink. Mass media is a bullhorn.

The Passing of a Dog

James Lileks says good-bye to his beloved Jasper, and as someone who still remembers fondly the dog of his youth (McGee, Bane of Moles, Scoffer at Chain-Link Fences), I was moved beyond the capacity to write anything useful in response. And what’s the point anyway? Everyone who’s had a dog understands; no one else could fathom. So I’ll let C.S. Lewis do it for me:

Is that not how the higher thing always raises the lower? A mother teachers her baby to talk by talking to it as if it understood long before it really does. We treat our dogs as if they were ‘almost human': that is why they really become ‘almost human’ in the end.

Mere Christianity, Chapter 7

Megan McArdle on the Choices Women Make

Good article, as one expects from McArdle, even when you don’t always agree with her. Never having been to business school, nor any kind of school at Harvard, I can’t dispute anything she discusses here.

But on average, the women I talk to just aren’t nearly as willing to sacrifice close friendships, and family relationships, for the sake of their jobs.

We can say that they shouldn’t have to, of course, but the sad fact is that there are trade-offs in this world. In your 20s you can finesse them — work super hard and also have a roaring social life — because you have boundless energy and no one depending on you. This is the age at which young women write furious articles and Facebook posts denouncing anyone who suggests that women opt-out of high pressure jobs for any reason other than the rankest sexism.

As you age, your body refuses to cooperate with your plan to work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and then hang out with friends. Your parents start to need you more, if only to lift heavy things. And of course, there are kids. You start having to make direct trade-offs, and then suddenly you look up and you haven’t seen your friends for two years and your mother is complaining that you never call. This is the age at which women write furious articles defending their decision to step back from a high-pressure job and/or demanding subsidized childcare, generous paid maternity leave and “family friendly policies,” a vague term that ultimately seems to mean that people who leave at five to pick up the kids should be entitled to the same opportunities and compensation as people who stay until 9 to finish the client presentation. These pleas usually end (or begin) by pointing to the family-friendly utopia of Northern Europe, except that women in Europe do less well at moving into high-test management positions. Whatever the government says, someone who takes several years off work is in fact less valuable to their company than someone who doesn’t.

It would be interesting to know where she got the statistic to back up the claim about women in Europe, but otherwise this rings true. And not because it gets men off the hook; real, actual sexism is still out there. But because it’s a simpler explanation than “systematic conspiracy of harassment.” I’ve been working for a long time, and the vast majority of my bosses have been women. Which is pretty well meaningless to me: the boss is the boss. But it can’t be heresy to point out that women differ from men, they tend to value different things, and this tends, in large groups, to lead to different choices and different results.

Now, if you accept that, that men just value “money” and “success” more than women do, one has to wonder: what’s the plan with all that money and success? What’s it for? Obviously, on some level we all — men and women — vie for status in the tribe. But when you hit that status, what’s next? The men McArdle writes of aren’t going to work from 7 to 11 for the rest of their lives, either. They’re eventually going to want a life, a wife, some kids. They’re just going to put if off later, because they can. Which is kind of a flimsy reason, and perhapss self-defeating. When you’re in your 20’s, and your life is chaos, anyway, kids can actually provide some kind of structure, because structure is what they require. Plus, you’ve got the energy to handle it. If a man waits until his late 30’s or beyond to settle down, he’s going to have a harder time adjusting to it not being about him all the time.

Or, maybe he’ll be ready for it. Trade-offs, trade-offs, trade-offs.