At Wit's Midpoint

Austin Dispatches No. 201 Dec. 27, 2017


With respect to my family, Congress gave me the best Christmas gift by finally repealing the ObamaCare individual mandate in the new tax law.[1] It’s the first good thing to happen to me this year.


As is, after hemorrhaging $15,028.36 in compliant medical insurance premiums, a month before repeal I finally got a break during the 2018 enrollment period because I earned so little in 2017, partly from ObamaCare’s impact on the job market.[2]


My straitened circumstances compelled me to research the risk of letting my compliant policy lapse and returning to a hospital income policy, just in case.[3] I learned that the penalty hadn’t increased from last year, was still less than the premiums, and wouldn’t be due until spring 2019, the full collection of which is the IRS’ sole concern. It was also possible I wouldn’t even have to pay a penalty, given my paltry earnings. Furthermore, none of this impacts my credit rating.


Thus, having plotted the angles, I was prepared to nix ObamaCare as the better option when I met with my insurance agent Nov. 6. Turns out the feds would subsidize my policy next year.


Of course, a couple of weeks later, I received a letter from Health Insurance Marketplace objecting to my paperwork. What it wants are tax forms I can’t provide because either I’ve been unemployed or because the financial firms won’t mail them to me until next month. “Among other things, it sounds like you want me to violate the time-space continuum and provide documents that don’t exist yet,” I told some bureaucrat.


During that conversation, I was reviewing the forms I received from the insurer. The confirmation letter referred to one policy, but the ID card and benefits booklet referred to another. I had to call the insurer to correct its mistake.


Regardless, I feel healthier already.


ObamaCare’s just one of numerous external factors combined in a static resistance that’s kept me unemployed for an extended period: the inherent risk of contracting;[4] plus a sluggish, uncertain economy; plus the bottleneck of HR-dominated hiring processes,[5] in the vortex of online job applications;[6] plus advertised positions subsequently being put on hold; plus accelerated turnover among recruiters, the latest generations averse to responding to calls or e-mails; plus the return of some aggravating practices by prospective clients, such as indecision, resume harvesting, requiring expertise in software applications for longer than the software’s existence,[7] and requiring skill sets more realistically found in two or three different people.


You wonder why if I’m so smart I’m not rich?[8] To get there from here that’s what I must overcome. I explained all the above to a project manager during my last job interview months ago, but he sounded doubtful. The interview was so bad, I wondered whether my past achievements – a succès de STEM, if you’ll pardon the expression – were just flukes. These flukes include four contracts where I didn’t even interview.


I’m not the only one so beset. Five tech writer acquaintances are either jobless or have quit the occupation, and one’s quit Austin. These are all qualified, responsible workers, assets to any company or project. One, a friend and mentor of many years, said it shouldn’t be this difficult to get paying work for which we’re qualified. Various project managers and recruiters have told me the same hiring practices afflict those in other occupations.

The real issue is whether anybody in this thumb-sucking Hooverville has the brains, gumption and influence to do anything besides wring his hands over my plight.[9] As a corollary, I’ve thought that if I realized I’d become chronically unemployable, I’d write an expose of what contracting in the Austin job market is like. But someone beat me to that.[10]


Bobbing for Fries


In short, my life is terrible, but compared to people in the news, it’s not so bad.


For example, Al Franken, comedian-turned-U.S. senator for Minnesota, will resign Jan. 2 under allegations of sexual harassment. Who’s laughing now, funny man?[11]


I wanted Roy Moore to win the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate for the pettiest of reasons: Two local dipshits usually wrong about everything have fulminated about him over the years – tellingly, not because of his alleged peckerwood peccadillos, but for uttering Christian rhetoric in his political career. Their anguish over the ‘Bamas electing Moore would’ve made a beautiful garnish at Christmastime, one to cheer the cockles of my black heart.[12] Nevertheless, components of the American establishment, particularly both major parties and the media, had to put aside their internal differences, work especially hard and lose their cool just for a narrow victory over Moore. One more such victory could break it.


Convicted murderer Charles Manson, inevitable consequence of hippie-style countercultural mores, finally died, decades after a taxpayer-supported existence in California prison.[13] Perversely, had he obtained a record deal, his music was bad enough to maintain a decades-long pop popularity –  just imagine Manson's late '70s disco phase – until today's youth crucified him for sexual harassment.[14]


Austin Death Watch


Austin’s power elite is feeling smug again after county voters approved every bond measure on the Nov. 7 ballot. At times like these, I'm glad I'm not making mortgage payments on property in Travis County.[15] Bad enough the City Council OK’d an Austin Energy rate increase.[16] Also, the chairwoman of the City’s Zoning and Platting Commission told the Chronicle she doesn’t trust the group handling the attempted zoning code rewrite “to deliver a good product.” The Chronicle buried that bombshell lede in the middle of its story, itself buried in the Nov. 22 issue likely to be overlooked in the Thanksgiving rush.[17]


Manufactured houses (a.k.a. mobile homes) could help alleviate Austin’s affordable housing issue, yet the City and its proposed zoning revisions have been quietly willing to displace them through “upzoning.”[18] The Dec. 15 Chronicle piece didn’t mention this, but mobile homes and their occupants have always been the subject of a lot of virulent class snobbery. Moreover, Austin’s cultural arbiters, whom you’d think would be fonder of all that’s low-class and tacky, seem to have subtly changed their tastes without anybody noticing – except Austin Dispatches. Now they prefer their low-class, tacky tastes to also be expensive. Their snobby hauteur remains unchanged, however.


Speaking of which, the Nov. 22 Statesman reports rush-hour traffic jams along Cesar Chavez Street are another consequence of the finally completed North MoPac toll road project.[19] The City Council blanches at a $124 million bond proposal to fix aged, leaky municipal swimming pools.[20] If even Austin councilmen are concerned about cost, you know it’s a frivolous waste. Austin Energy shrugs after water bills spiked in September.[21]


The usual subset of Austin's power elite moans that a judge sentenced the killer of a transvestite hooker to only 20 years in prison.[22] This would be a good opportunity for the power elite to reconsider its opposition to the death penalty, but it's members either aren't smart enough, or they daren't reconsider one issue that leads to reconsidering another issue that leads to their whole worldview crashing down around their ears, admitting they were wrong about everything, which leads to questions as to what they'll do to make amends to the rest of us. (For the record, I'm looking to collect from them what I've spent in Obamacare premiums that they supported, plus compensation in lost wages, at my top hourly rate, going back 21 years from their crippling the economy, plus the cost of repairs to my cars because they couldn't be bothered to maintain local roads despite all the taxes we pay, plus compensation on my Austin Energy bills, plus a 20 percent aggravation surcharge on all of the above, plus a 20 percent – call it a stupidity tax – on all of the above, to drum the lesson into their skulls. If collecting what they owe impoverishes them and they die in the gutter or turn to selling blowjobs at Rundberg Avenue to survive, so be it.[23] They’ve tried to impoverish us.)


After a year without a City manager, whereupon municipal matters were no worse than usual, the Council hired a replacement who:


… [M]ust also smooth over relations with a ticked-off Austin Police Association that just last week saw council members reject the agreed-to terms of a working contract for the first time since the city and police union first started operating with meet-and-confer agreements in the late Nineties. (Among those interim heads is Police Chief Brian Manley, which means [new City Manager Spencer] Cronk must consider hiring the union’s actual boss – or replacing him with an out-of-towner – while simultaneously overseeing what will undoubtedly be a long and testy negotiating period with a body of cops determined to prove that the city has made a grave mistake.[24]


A fired fireman faces charges of furtively videotaping a fire station’s women’s locker room.[25]


On the Town County


Nov. 10: I bought some toiletries at the newly opened Aldi grocery store in far Pflugerville. The chain’s practice of charging a quarter to use a shopping cart irritated me.[26] I doubt I’ll return. To and from the store, I marveled at the development along Farm-to-Market Road 685. I remember when its intersection with Parmer Lane had nothing but potential.


During the same excursion, I noted a Nigerian restaurant has opened in Pflugerville. However, given the usual low caliber of surviving eateries in that burg (notable exception: Baris Pasta & Pizza), that may not be a stellar example of culinary diversity or Nigerian cuisine. Moreover, given its location – in a strip mall along 12th Street that in all the years I’ve visited Pflugerville has hosted a succession of failed restaurants and other businesses that look like they’re failing – the restaurant may be closed by the time you read this. (On the other side of 12th is an office building that’s always looked abandoned in all the years I’ve passed it.)


Nov. 14: For the first time in years, I attended a job fair. Post-tech boom, I didn’t think they could be any more pathetic, but this time the sponsoring companies didn’t bother to show. I suited up for nothing.


Nov. 22: While walking in the Wooten neighborhood, I found a penny.


Nov. 24: For variety’s sake, I mistakenly attended the Blue Genie Art Bazaar.[27] The handcrafted items for sale made me long for mass-produced plastic goods manufactured by suicidal slave laborers in mainland China.[28] Also, I caught a flu from the credulous cretins milling about the fair.


Nov. 25: Austin Public Library’s new central branch has cramped underground parking at such a steep incline that the patrons fleeing before the complimentary half-hour expired idled furiously waiting for the lead vehicle to turn left against traffic, then rolled back toward the next car before accelerating and stopping for a repeat. Above ground, the staircases connecting the floors are equally steep, also narrow and squeaky. Furthermore, the atrium means there’s less floor space for bookshelves than you should expect from a library.[29]


Christmas: While walking in the Hancock neighborhood, I noted relatively few Christmas decorations, but many signs opposing CodeNext.


Dec. 26:  I lunched in South Austin with a friend visiting from Wisconsin. A good time was had by all.


Bevo and Butt-Heads


According to the Dec. 6 Hilltop Views, St. Edward’s University’s sleazy reliance on cheap illegal foreign labor, now staying away for fear of deportation, has delayed the completion of a new dormitory. Students quoted in the article complain of having to stay in a smelly, dangerous, vermin-ridden motel off Interstate 35 in the meantime.[30] My heart bleeds, college kids. Wait until your landlord forces you from your apartment so it can remodel, and continues to botch its basic services.[31]


Neighborhood News


The Statesman’s Traffic Web page reported collisions at Burnet and McNeil roads on Nov. 15 and at Parmer Lane and Scofield Farms Drive on Nov. 17, at the MoPac Expressway southbound frontage road and Parmer on Nov. 28, and at Braker Lane and Metric Boulevard on Dec. 1, on Highway 183 southbound near Burnet on Dec. 7 and Dec. 19, and at MoPac and Duval on Dec. 11; and a rolled-over vehicle at Kramer Lane and Metric on Nov. 22.


IBM’s Broadmoor office park off Burnet Road is a contender for’s second headquarters.[32] A dozen businesses have opened at The Domain.[33] Crews are constructing five big buildings.[34]


Media Indigest


Weekly newspaper Houston Press has ceased its print edition. Reading between the lines of the Austin Chronicle’s piece, the Chronicle is losing money.[35]


Business Roundup


The Dec. 15 Business Journal reports developers want to build a mixed-use development in Georgetown “modeled after a classic Italian village reflecting a region’s specific architecture and culture,” region as yet to be determined.[36]


Hershey is buying local company Amplify Snack Brands. Amplify insists Hershey pay the $1.6 billion price tag in 100 Grand bars.[37]


Home Archives


[1] AD No. 194n7 (March 5, 2017); AD No. 198n4 (Sep. 4, 2017); Agresta, Michael. “Obamacare Lives!” AC 17 Nov. 2017: 20+; Bender, Michael C., Janet Hook, and Richard Rubin. “Tax Vote Seals Victory for Trump.” WSJ 21 Dec. 2017: A1+.

[2] AD No. 168n2 (Oct. 23, 2013); AD No. 190n5 (Aug. 30, 2016); AD No. 191n1 (Oct. 9, 2016).

[3] AD No. 169n13 (Nov. 22, 2013).

[4] Mulcahy, Diane. The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want. New York City: AMACOM, 2017.

[5] AD No. 185n13 (Nov. 17, 2015); Gershon, Illana. Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Don’t Find) Work Today. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2017: Ch. 6.

[6] Gershon, op. cit., 91.

[7] Ibid., 91.

[8] Trout, Jack. Trout on Strategy: Capturing Mindshare, Conquering Markets. New York City: McGraw-Hill, 2004: 60.

[9] AD No. 42n1 (Oct. 30, 2002).

[10] Passons, Erin. You’ll Never Interview in This (Weird) Town Again: Job Hunting in Austin and Living to Tell About It. Seattle. Amazon Digital Services, 2015.

[11] Leibovich, Mark. “Funny or Die.” New York Times Sunday Magazine 18 Dec. 2016: MM50; Orrick, Dave. “Franken to Resign His Seat on Jan. 2.” Pioneer Press 21 Dec. 2017: 1A+.

[12] Lyman, Brian. “Alabama Votes Democrat in for Historic Change.” Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser 13 Dec. 2017: 1A+.

[13] Bugliosi, Vincent, and Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, rev. ed. New York City: W.W. Norton & Co., 1994; Corwin, Miles. “Mastermind of Murderous Cult.” LAT 20 Nov. 2017: A1+; Sanders, Ed. The Family, 2nd rev. ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2002.

[14] AD No. 200n20 (Nov. 6, 2017); Hoskyns, Barney. Waiting for the Sun: Strange Days, Weird Scenes & the Sounds of Los Angeles. New York City: St. Martin's Press, 1996: 180-187; The Psychedelic Soul of Charles Manson. Mad Deadly Worldwide Communist Gangster Computer God ‎DEC95, 2005; Sanders, op. cit., Ch. 13.

[15] Barbaro, Nick. “What a Difference a Year Makes.” AC 10 Nov. 2017: 8; King, Michael. “Meat and Potatoes.” AC 10 Nov. 2017: 6+.

[16] “Austin City Council Approves Increase in Austin Energy Pass-Through Charges.” PowerPlus Nov. 2017: 1.

[17] Marloff, Sarah. “ ‘Good for Austin.’ ” AC 24 Nov. 2017: 14-15.

[18] Caterine, Joseph. “Manufactured Housing Money.” AC 15 Dec. 2017: 18.

[19] Wear, Ben. “City Studies Chavez St. Chrunch.” AAS 22 Nov. 2017, final ed.: B1.

[20] Hernandez, Nina. “Everybody out of the Pool Plan!” AC 15 Dec. 2017: 16.

[21] Findell, Elizabeth. “Utility Lashed Over Answers on Water Bills.” AAS 18 Dec. 2018, final ed.: A1.

[22] Marloff. “Monica Loera’s Killer Gets 20 Years.” AC 10 Nov. 2017: 12.

[23] Findell. “Rundberg Safer Now, but Future Uncertain.” AAS 17 Jan. 2017, state ed.: A1.

[24] Hoffberger, Chase. “What a Mess.” AC 22 Dec. 2017: 8+.

[25] Hernandez. “Former Firefighter out on Bond.” AC 24 Nov. 2017: 18.

[26] Garcia, Ariana. “Aldi Grocery’s First Austin-Area Grand Opening Draws Hundreds.” AAS 10 Nov. 2017: B2.

[27] Blue Genie Art Bazaar. Advertisement. AC 24 Nov. 2017: 3.

[28] Merchant, Brian. The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone. New York City: Little, Brown and Co., 2017: 263-266.

[29] AD No. 200n36 (Nov. 6, 2017).

[30] San Martin, Matthew. “Students Fear Another Semester of Unfavorable Living Conditions.” Hilltop Views 6 Dec. 2017: 1-2.

[31] AD No. 195 (May 7, 2017); AD No. 196 (July 13, 2017).

[32] Buchholz, Jan. “CEO Pitches Jeff Bezos on North Austin Site.” ABJ 10 Nov. 2017: 14.

[33] “Impacts.” CIN Nov. 2017, Northwest Austin ed.: 4-5.

[34] “Development Highlights.” CIN Nov. 2017, Northwest Austin ed.: 16-17.

[35] Curtin, Kevin. “Stop the (Houston) Presses!” AC 10 Nov. 2017: 46.

[36] Salazar, Daniel. “Slice of Italy Planned in Georgetown.” ABJ 15 Dec. 2017: B4.

[37] Sechler, Bob. “Hershey Buying Austin’s Amplify.” AAS 19 Dec. 2017: B5.