Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanksgiving Weekend Malfunction

Since I entered the dubious realm of what is called adulthood, and by that I mean having to work along with taking up the duties of being a parent, Thanksgiving became my favorite holiday. All jokes aside about families eager to come together and celebrate the bonds of kinship, Christmas starts losing its meaning once the great lie that is Santa is revealed to the wiser young ones. And by wiser, I mean those kids who had probably already knew the deal but kept their mouths shut since they didn’t want to endanger the Golden Goose of mom and dad desperate to keep them happy.

Even those short years afterwards, while the now enlightened children still have enough innocence that the average adult can tolerate their presence, Christmas becomes increasingly problematic. The true symbols of the season like the insanity of Black Friday shopping and the time consuming preparation involved in decorating and travel make it something to dread like going to the DMV or a prostate exam. Do not hate me and do not send any hate mail, you know I am telling truth. In all honestly, we all have relatives we literally cringed at the thought of spending time with during Christmas and this says nothing about the bottled up resentment at having to spend money for presents on those assorted fools.

For a great many people besides me, Thanksgiving has become the one refuge of sanity situated between the bastardized Halloween, whose only purpose is to support the Chocolate/Sugar Industrial Complex and the insanity that is hyper-capitalistic Christmas. Sure, you are liable to see those very same relatives that you secretly hope were adopted because you hate the idea that your own kids might share any genetic material with them. But at least the tension is reduced after dinner because everyone just wants to stumble into the living room and sleep as they process all that hormone-laden turkey bubbling away inside their digestive tracts.

At my house Thanksgiving has become so laid back that it actually irritates my wife that the kids and I have seriously recommended we just buy one of those gigantic frozen pizzas and serve that up for dinner. My wife, raised in a true Ozzy and Harriet suburban environment, is almost programmed like a robot to perform certain functions when it comes to the holidays. Among them, are the very duties I’ve been bitching about like searching for that perfect gift for our kids and her nieces, along with whatever she discovers for herself along the way.

But does that mean daddy can run off to the sporting goods store and buy him that five hundred dollar kayak? Only if he wants to include the two hundred dollar tent attachment, and then proceed to make it his permanent residence. No, dad has to be happy with his new underwear and socks and if he is lucky, just maybe mom might be nice to him once the kids have gone to sleep. Whatever the case, Thanksgiving is the one holiday that allows me to relax and enjoy the company of my family without having to put up with a lot of crap. Well, this year turned out to be a little different.

This sad tale actually began two months ago when my wife embarked on a home renovation obsession that is even now still gathering steam. We’ve had a contractor rebuilding the room over the garage since the middle of October with completion scheduled around the middle of December. All jokes aside, the room very much needed rebuilding and the contractor’s work is literally fantastic. In the coming weeks though,  different contractors will replace the stove, the kitchen counter tops, and redo the cabinets all through the house. Not only that, the carpet all through the house is being replaced and we will probably have the person fixing the fence damaged from the recent hurricane also replace the worn planks on our backyard deck.

This does not mean I sitting back and sipping a sophisticated mixed drink watching the guys do their Bob Villa impersonations. No, my wife has a whole list of tasks for me that while time consuming aren’t that hard. I actually got the first one done last Wednesday and it was painting the master bedroom.

One problem though, while I noticed that the new paint color was almost identical to the old, once the room was finished I frankly couldn’t tell the difference. In one way that was good since that meant I didn’t spend several more hours going over spots where the old color bled through. On the bad side, once my wife inspected the newly painted room the look on her face suggested she just might come home with another couple of gallons of a color that will stand out more. Which means my happy ass will be doing it all over again.

While Thursday was a true day of rest, for reasons I can’t explain my wife talked me into going shopping Friday morning. The two places she wanted to hit were the local Best Buy and the nearby Target. At first, my intention was just to sit in the car as she and my daughter navigated the belated hordes inside those temples of cheap imported goods. But when my wife vaguely suggested that we might buy another, bigger television as she headed for Best Buy I decided to accompany her inside since she has a bad habit of buying beat up display models because, “they are great deals.” On a previous trip to another one of those types of stores, she bought a surround sound system that had been used as a display model for over a year.

When the clerks packaged it up, they couldn’t find the instructions so they went online and printed them out. A nice gesture, but after my wife brought it home I spent several hours following those instructions trying to get it to work. At some point I finally discovered the clerks had given us the printout for a completely different model totally incompatible with the junk that by then was scattered all over the living room floor.

However, at least I ran enough interference Friday to prevent a similar occurrence. Once that was done, I snaked my way through the crowds and retreated to the car like a beaten dog. I did have enough foresight to bring a book to read in the car and enough sense not to go with my wife and daughter into Target, which looked even more crowded and insane than Best Buy.

Unfortunately, I repeated my mistake the next day. Saturday being the day before my birthday, we all went out to eat a nice lunch. Curiously enough, the local Home Depot is about two-hundred yards away from my favorite Chinese restaurant and after we were all nicely satisfied, my wife decided she absolutely had to go look at carpet. I’ll just say that while I usually enjoy walking around hardware stores looking at all the cool stuff, those next three hours were tough to endure. I will say this, the Home Depot lady in charge of carpet earned every cent of her pay those long grueling hours.

My wife and daughter are going to London, England sometime in 2017, the exact date is still up in the air but one is thing for certain is that I will not be traveling with them. The cost for just two people is outrageous and besides some fool has to man the fort and keep our two dogs from peeing all over that new carpet. Long story short, other than a few short and cheap wife-approved trips, I’m not going to get a real vacation in 2017.

However, given the soul crushing and time consuming nature of all these home renovation projects, I must admit I am reconsidering my threat to whip out my own credit card and purchase a trip to someplace in the Caribbean with my departure date the day my wife and daughter return from London. My general idea is to call the house as I sit my happy ass on the other side of the airport TSA line and tell my lovely spouse I will bring her home a souvenir from whatever warm, sunny beach I find myself visiting. Yeah, I’m going with the "it’s better to act then ask for forgiveness than wait for permission that will never comes" route. Whatever happens when Thanksgiving 2017 comes we should all have some wild stories to tell. Hell, maybe my lovely spouse will even agree to pizza next year.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Crunchy Peanut Butter Transcendence

Paraphrasing here, but I recently read an article by a travel writer describing how after a long and grueling schedule of visiting wonderful places and meeting interesting people around the world, he likes to return home after his tiring journeys, sit in front of his fireplace and sip a glass of fine wine. As I further read the article, I waited for some tacit comment that while navigating various labyrinth-like international airports, dealing with degrees of exhausting jet lag and difficult bureaucratic immigration and custom officials are a pain, being a travel writer was about the best work a person could snag in this stunted existence. But strangely enough, in a world overflowing with crappy jobs, this irony-impaired author just continued on about the best wines to drink after returning home from strenuous travel as if his predicament was natural and shared by the rest of humanity.

Far be it from me to criticize a truly talented and successful writer but unfortunately my normal sympathy, compassion, and basic give-a-fucks were all stupefied at the idea that seeing the Eiffel Tower, the ruins of Rome, or a beautiful Tahitian sunset could ever approach being more trouble than they were worth. I'm sure other people are more deserving of someone smacking them upside the head than this travel writer, but right now I'm at a loss to name anyone else.

No, the jobs most of us workaday schmucks have settle for are ones that pay the bills and, if we're lucky, leave enough left over to do more with life than just survive. As for mentally and physically unwinding after a tough day at work with a fine wine, personally for me, that will remain the purview of socially snobbish pricks who fret about the type of china used at dinner and the proper placement of the shiny silverware. Hell, in reality given my schedule, I really don't have the option to unwind for any length of time after work.

Coming home in the morning after my shift I have just enough time to clean up, eat some breakfast, then try and crash around 8:30am before the two family dogs start losing their minds around 2:30am needing to go outside and pee. I know you shouldn't anthropomorphize the behavior of animals, even pets, but I swear my dogs, Snickers and Sparky, have this particular facial expression that says, “Hey dude, if you don't get your sorry ass out of bed right now, you'll be the one cleaning up the stains in the carpet and picking up the poop.” Funny things about that, when I don't let the dogs out in time, both of my fur kids retreat to the couch and then give me this smug,”we warned you” look as I go through the motions of fueling up the carpet cleaner and disposing of their solid toxic waste.

No, the only real time circumstance has allotted for me to get all introspective is what amounts to my lunchtime in the middle of my shift, usually somewhere around 1:00 to 2:30am. If I was a sociable person I would eat lunch with my two coworkers, its just that I don't like Duck Dynasty, or any of the other shows they watch in the actual break room that all have a combined IQ of 60. In an effort to keep good relations, I do sit with them in the break room at the beginning of the shift and drink a cup of coffee. During that time I have adapted the advice of the leader of the penguins from the Madagascar movies to keep good relations. I simply smile and nod at the unoffensive conversations they have, subjects like how they can't understand how any self respecting guy could have a cat as a pet. Or my favorite, their usual rage festivals at bad drivers and how close they came to pulling their pistol out from its hiding place underneath the seat after some fool offended their delicate sensibilities while on the way to work.

When my lunchtime comes I retreat to the room used by my group to store supplies and spare uniforms. Inside that room we have a table and comfortable office chairs that allow me to sit back and enjoy what has to stand in as a replacement for any fine wine. Believe it or not, I get an immense sense of enjoyment from eating a crunchy peanut butter sandwich. No, it's not a finely aged wine nor is my location for lunch in front of a warm, inviting fireplace but in this progressively depressing age, shit could be far worse.

For reasons I have never figured out, there seems to be a bias directed against lovers of crunchy peanut butter. This goes back to my childhood when I remember the other kids at my school lunch table staring in horror as I bit down on the tasty shards of peanuts mixed in with the regular creamy spread. Given their expressions, they apparently misidentified the crunchy noise coming from my chewing as screams of horror from the tiny peanuts as they met their demise. At least that is how I liked to played off their disgust and grade school condemnation at my lunch preference. Unfortunately, no one else in my family liked crunchy peanut butter, so I was eventually forced to go with the preference of the unimaginative majority.

By accident I renewed my love of crunchy peanut butter after becoming a dad. I was making a grocery run and along with buying the wrong shampoo for my wife, the totally incorrect breakfast cereal for the kids, I accidentally grabbed a jar of crunchy peanut butter, which was supposed to be used for their school lunches. Frankly, I never in a million years would have guessed the level of blow back I got from my wife and kids over picking the wrong peanut butter. Picking both the wrong shampoo and cereal was completely forgotten about when they saw the horror of all those chopped up peanuts inside the jar. If my kids ever have to go to therapy, I figure that incident will be brought up as to one of the reasons they can't deal with life or have long-term personal relationships.

As for my wife, it amazes me that in as little as five minutes after the fact, she can totally forget the odd place she moved the book I was reading, or where she tossed my shoes that I mistakenly left in the living room—another terrible sin in its own right. But to this day, over a decade later after mistakenly buying a jar of crunchy peanut butter for the kids lunches, she readily brings up that fact whenever I inadvertently again screw the pooch at the grocery store. Yes, she brings up many of my other sins but it all goes to prove the point that the Pope is correct in that women can never be priests. It is simply impossible for them to forget any transgression and as sure as bear leave steamy piles of poop in the woods, they cannot forgive.

All that changed recently since I have one kid in high school and the other in college. Neither of them like peanut butter anymore, and my wife buys her own organic creamy, which to me looks more like wet mud. So that leaves me to finally indulge in my crunchy peanut butter without guilt. What this personal crunchy peanut butter renaissance means is that I am now able to sit back during my all too short lunch breaks at work and unwind while contemplating the crappy state of human affairs. One of my favorite thought-experiments while I savor the magnificent flavor of my sandwich is to think of where I would go on the planet to get away from all hoi polloi that make up many of my fellow Americans. For years my favorite imaginary sanctuary was either the south island of New Zealand or the southwestern coast of Australia. Both places are blissfully underpopulated, which fits nicely with my general antisocial tendencies and well established disgust of the human animal. I would be remiss if I didn't add that both places are about as far away from the United States as a person can get and still be on planet Earth. A nice benefit when the United States has its collective psychotic break with reality. Yes, the election of Trump is a disturbing omen that such an event will be here sooner rather than later. 

Yes, during these periods of relatively deep thought, it has occurred to me that I am taking on many of the snobbish characteristics I laid at the feet of the wine drinking travel writer for whom world travel can be a burden. There is nothing more plebeian than peanut butter but on the other hand drinking wine at work would get me fired. Anyway, I save the alcohol for the weekends to deal with things at home like neighbors and chores that never end.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Forgotten Warning

“The Collapse of Civilization” by Steve Thomas

Predicting the future is truthfully a fool's errand. Recent societal changes have taken the most astute observers of culture by surprise and technological advancement over the last sixty years would probably seem like magic to those born at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, I remember a report published when I was a kid that was scary accurate in how the future unfolded.

Back during the last year of the Carter Administration a report came out painting a dim view of the future stretching from the last two decades of the twentieth century and well into the twenty-first. I forget the author of the report, some government agency I believe, but it made the case that the coming years would see countries across the globe dealing with increasing pressures from worsen pollution and swelling populations exacerbated by basic resources becoming scarce. This would lead to an increasing of international tensions, terrorism, and outright war. This report went as far as to state that this would ultimately lead to the introduction of authoritarian governments in normally democratic countries. That last item was something that both puzzled and worried me since this report came out before the end of the Cold War. At the time I just couldn't imagine Western countries willingly surrendering the principles that made them special enough to stand against the communist nations.

The main reason I remember this report was that it ran counter to the general optimism inherent to the late 60's and early 70's, the years that, for a lack of a better term, I essentially became conscious. To my young mind, after having been tainted with the philosophy of Star Trek and being influenced by the Civil Rights struggle, the future was supposed to be one where things got progressively better. Yes, during the late 1970's I was a serious science and science fiction nerd who ate up any literature attempting to describe what the lives of human beings would be like in the coming decades. Sure, there would be setbacks, but the view of the futurists I read in magazines like Analog and the now dead Omni said we were on the road to far better things for everyone on the planet.

While I have forgotten most of the details, I do vaguely remember this report spelled out the reasons why things were going to get bad and they mainly centered around far too many people basically wanting the American lifestyle. To meet this desire already threatened resources would be stripped further increasing their costs, which would push the poorer among us down the socioeconomic ladder straining civil society. Authoritarian leaders would then appear to quell the uprising of the poor, denied masses and protect those of property or conversely, to overthrow the existing unfair status quo.

It was an exceedingly dark and dystopic future whose only meager silver lining was the vague suggestion that technology might remedy the situation by the middle of the twenty-first century. The last thing I remember about this report was that it made enough of an impact that the Reagan Administration instantly countered it as soon as they came into the White House with their own pollyannaish version. It claimed everything in the future was going to be hunky-dory and anyone that said different was a lying commie.

The troubling aspect of that forgotten, pessimistic report for me was even at that young age it clearly spelled out the troubles we were to face. As opposed to the Reagan version that gave vague assurances that everyone should just buy sunglasses because the future was going to be so bright.

As fate would have it the intervening years were seemingly not as dire as first predicted. The looming Soviet Empire collapsed almost overnight freeing dozens of nation from its oppressive grip. Democracy and free market capitalism were proclaimed by nearly all as the natural state of human affairs. And finally, the United States became the sole global superpower whose destiny was to expand its way of life to every person on the planet. Then there was the unparalleled expansion of electronic technology that took the computer from a device the size of a room to one that could fit in a pant's pocket and act as your telephone, high quality camera, universal information almanac, personal assistant, and thousands of other things. Among all this unbridled freedom and pursuit of new markets and technology things were slowing going to shit.

The first thing that has to be mentioned was the growing web of free trade treaties that on the surface are a great idea. That being rising global trade and open markets promote higher living standards which in turn increase stability and prosperity for everyone taking part. The problem with this good idea was that international corporations decided the economic bottom line dictated that manufacturing-- i.e. good paying jobs—had to migrate to countries where the pay was far less than what the average worker got in the United States or any other First World country. Now this was fine for the Elite and those running the corporations, their wealth not only stayed the same but grew almost exponentially since workers in China only got paid cents on the dollar compared to their American counterparts.

As for middle class American workers this has meant a long slide downward as jobs that allowed a newly married couple to buy a house, raise kids and put them through college, while saving for retirement began dissolving like smoke caught in a breeze. With good jobs disappearing credit cards became the way the middle class kept up the facade of a prosperous lifestyle. During my grandparents' time debt was a shame and something that was taken on only with great reluctance. I remember one occasion when my grandparents television had a permanent and irreversible meltdown requiring that they go out and buy a replacement.

Today such a shopping trip can be executed in one afternoon, but for them that meant waiting for several weeks as paychecks built up and a few other bills were paid off. Then there was the shopping around trying to get the best deal since back then the purchase of a television was much the same as buying a car. Once the new television was delivered, I remember my grandfather working overtime at the local paper mill so it could be paid off as quickly as possible.

Today it is nothing for the average family to make a similar purchase on a whim all the while having no tangible monetary savings. Sure they “own” a house that over time should increase in value and some sort of retirement savings account that takes the place of the long dead workplace pension. But these folks are permanent riders on the credit merry-go-round and subject to the shifting temperament of those that manage the stock markets and banks.

Needless to say, since the 1970's economic equality in the United States and around the world has suffered terribly with a tiny percentage of the super-rich controlling the vast majority of global wealth. To the modern wealthy Elites, their status is as natural as eighteenth-century aristocrats thought their own position was during that that era of hereditary kings and dukes. However, like the peasants that eventually wised up and killed off many of those aristocrats, there are those of us that have become aware very little of the post-Cold War expansion of wealth is trickling down to those of us on the bottom half of the economic ladder. But instead of forming coherent groups to address this equality, populist leaders have stepped forward who appeal to the worst in our nature. They promise utopia but upon closer examination are only spewing hate-filled rhetoric while scapegoating people and institutions and that while flawed, are not the true source of their problems.

There is absolutely no doubt that capitalism, when compared to the command and control economies of the post-WW 2 communist nations is both more efficient and takes into consideration the basic human right that someone should be able to reap the benefits of their idea or invention. That being said, capitalism has similar tendencies like communism in that it eats the unfortunate and poor. The simple fact that corporations almost daily abandon longtime and loyal employees and relocate to countries that pay significantly less and do not have troublesome institutions like labor unions shows a contempt for the individual that I frankly find psychotic.

One of the central parts of the pessimistic Carter report was how pollution in the coming years was going to become worse. This was another aspect that puzzled me since the 1970's was the decade that the Clean Air and Water Acts passed by the United States Congress had gone along way to reducing and reversing industries affects on the environment. Of course, Ronny Reagan wasn't long in the White House when his administration began reversing as much of those vital reforms as it could get away with. Later administrations would go even further all in the name of slicing through “Red Tape” that hampered economic development.

Since the end of the Cold War massive industrialization along capitalistic principles by former-communist and third world countries have assaulted the global environment all in the supposed name of raising living standards for the less fortunate. That does occur in a limited fashion, some places more than others, but in actuality the level of environmental destruction, climate destabilization, and worker abuse at the hands of monolithic corporations is so bad you could debate whether or not any positive short term gains are equal to the long term negatives. In short, while working in some third world sweatshop does provide a narrow avenue for some to escape grinding poverty, if that person and his or her family have to drink polluted water, eat tainted food and then suffer through a drought one year and unprecedented and destructive floods the next are they truly any better off? This ignores the possibility that these sweatshop workers are near slaves being forced to endure soul crushing hours while working in dangerous conditions.

This being the late 1970's, I don't remember anything about climate change being mentioned in that pessimistic report. However, I learned recently of a 1950ish video that shows two science types talking about how industrialization was spewing untold amounts of pollution into the atmosphere and how that it could, and would eventually alter the global climate for the worse. The fact that huge numbers of people absolutely refuse to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that human actions have severely damaged the planetary climate does not say anything good about the chances of our species long term survival.

In all the years that have passed since I became aware of this report, the one aspect that I took some relief in was that the Western nations hadn't succumbed to the siren call of authoritarian demagogues, now even that has come true. At first it was newly freed Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland electing individuals who have no dedication to the principles of freedom their nations dreamed about while under Soviet domination. Then this contagion spread to Western countries rightly worried about the power of uncontrollable multinational corporations, fears over economic globalization, and outright racism spawned by uncomfortable changes in internal demographics. Sorry Brits, while you guys and gals have every right to worry about how globalization is effecting your country, your recent vote to leave the European Union was packaged in ways less than honorable given your country's traditions.

Now even the United States has succumbed to the trends that long forgotten report predicted. The American public has just elected a man who has never held public office and whose temperament and behavior suggests the absolute last job he should hold is one where the lives of literally billions of people are in his hands. Furthermore, his admitted admiration of authoritarian tyrants in other countries as well as his reluctance to steadfastly condemn racist supporters frankly scares the hell out of many Americans. Trump's criticism of the American free press and threats to curtail its ability to do its Constitutionally mandated job by all rights would have immediately eliminated from presidential consideration if a majority of the American public were true to the principles the United States was founded upon.

Personally I believe these trends go beyond the report saying all this would be brought on by dwindling resources. While capitalism is a better economic system than the one used by the now dead Soviet Union, it nonetheless has its own inherent flaws. Namely that expansion must be constant and that efficiency and profit must come before people and the environment. These flaws, for the most part, could be overlooked in a world with far less people but that is simply the not the case anymore. Ignoring economic globalization alone for the moment, just having over seven billion people on a small planet all demanding access to food, water, and something more that makes life worth living would strain resources beyond the breaking point.

I absolutely hate sounding like a New Age guru, but I can't escape the conclusion that our current global structure of competing nation-states and massive corporations that answer to no regulating body is unsustainable. As for the report's suggestion that technology might ultimatly save us from the mess we have created, that is the one aspect I believe it will get wrong. The only thing that will save not only our global civilization, and maybe our species itself, is the realization that no nation, religion, corporation, or ethnic group can continue to look to the past as some sort of lost golden age of greatness. Simply put, our numbers and demands on the planet and each other will not allow it. It's a tired cliche but there is in reality no great savior that will solve all our problems, only fools believe such a thing. What will save us is the awareness that the ideas, superstitions, and institutions that divide into conflicted and selfish groups are foolish and worn out relics from previous ages that we best discard, not just for the betterment of ourselves but for the very lives of our children.

Author's note: If anyone can direct me to a link or even an article to that report published during the Carter Administration I would greatly appreciate it. I'm probably not phrasing my internet searches correctly so I'm not finding any mention of it even through I know it was real. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Election Aftermath

As anyone who has read my ridiculous rants and crappy fiction for any length of time should know, last Tuesday night was a full-fledged shit sandwich party for my family and me. Trump’s unexpected electoral victory over Hillary Clinton will go down as one of the most insane upsets in American history. For three days after the election, I was literally emotionally and mentally numb, hell I’m still coming to grips with this situation.

I honestly wish I could say something nice about Trump and the people that see him as some savior. Unfortunately, I can’t and I refuse to make nice given the crap such people rained down on President Obama from the day he won the 2008 presidential election. Pushing political ill will and outright hate aside for a moment, if Trump pursues his campaign promises I frankly see him creating a far bigger mess than the one George W. Bush left behind for the black guy to clean up. You simply will not bring back old-fashioned 1950’s manufacturing jobs when some chump in China or Mexico makes pennies on the dollar compared to an American worker. If these jobs did come back companies would have to pay workers enough to do more than just survive. They would mean Joe Sixpack having money left over at the end of the month to buy that new washing machine or television while being able to save a little for his kid’s college education. The cost of such wages would have to be passed down to the American consumer, which would mean a nice rise in inflation. To bust this bubble even further for those who don't remember the 1970's, American consumers hate inflation and tend to stop buying all those neat new adult toys which keep the economy afloat.   

Then there is Trump’s promise to renegotiate trade deals and hit foreign goods with tariffs. Start pulling on those threads and the millions of jobs here in the United States that send their products overseas will definitely be in grave danger as other countries throw tariffs on our stuff. We’re talking trade wars with the global economy going into a tailspin with an economic depression the best of all possible outcomes.

But hey, Hillary lost and the Republicans have control of both houses of Congress, so the ball is firmly in their court. Given Trump’s mental and emotional instability and the Republican’s desire to make the United States into the image of Ayn Rand, a cynical part of me wants to see hell rain down on those silly souls who think Donald will lead them back to the proverbial Promised Land. All us sorry-ass liberals can do is sit back and watch the train wreck as it unfolds. But who knows, the bastard got elected, by the Electoral College, not by the majority of the American public, so who the hell knows how this will all unfold. I’m just going to start rereading Grapes of Wrath to refresh my memory of outright despair and struggle. I have a sneaking suspicion such conditions might return sometime between now and 2020. 
On a lighter note, I am still in a state of semi-bondage as the great home renovation projects continue. I swear, my wife is taking on some uncomfortably similar characteristics to those little, megalomaniacal dudes that run North Korea.