Rent-to-Own – Or – How to Screw Over the Poor


The Washington Post has an interesting article today about the rent-to-own industry. Now it’s not talking about someone who does a rent-to-own deal for their house, but rather someone who does a rent-to-own deal for more basic things, like furniture.

The story focuses on a family in Cullman, Alabama, who are in the process of making weekly payments on a couch that retails for about $1,500. In the end, they’ll pay over $4,000 for it. That’s assuming they make all their payments on time and don’t have to pay late fees. That’s also assuming they’ll actually be able to pay it off, and won’t have it taken away after putting in, say, $3,000 or so.

Now look. I’m poor. I slipped from lower-middle class in 2010 to middle-lower class as of this year. Right now, in the late part of October, I haven’t even broken $8,000 in earnings. I’ve had to go on food stamps for the first time since the 1990s, and I can’t afford to pay for the last class I need to get my associate’s degree. That’s in addition to the rent I can’t pay, and haven’t paid since June.

I have a couch, as well as a few other things to sit on. But if I didn’t have those, I wouldn’t go rent-to-own. I’d spend a few days, or if needed, weeks, scanning Craigslist to find a couch for free (they show up often along with, oddly, free hot tubs), or a love seat, or just a chair. To be fair, the article mentions that this woman and her family tried Craigslist, but they should have continued to try.

Failing that, I wouldn’t go rent-to-own. I just wouldn’t. This family’s weekly payment is around $110. That currently includes a smartphone (which I’d argue is certainly more vital than a couch), and a pair of speakers. So I don’t know what just the couch costs them per week. Let’s assume $75. If they’d simply saved two weeks of payments on the couch, they would have had $150, which is easily enough to pick up a couch at a garage sale or something. Yes, it’s hard to save up money when you’re poor, but there are ways.

If Craigslist and garage sales or yard sales failed to yield me a couch, I’d still not do the rent-to-own thing. But if I did, I’d get the cheapest one available and damn the looks of it. I don’t need a cup-holder. I don’t need a reclining option. Ultimately, I’d need a place to sit at the end of a long day, and it doesn’t matter what the couch looks like as long as it can fullfill that basic need.

But then…I have an advantage this woman does not.

“I don’t know how we’ll make it,” Abbott said, and every solution came with a problem. Return the sofa? Sure, but she’d burn the money she’d already put into it and leave her living room with a hole. Find work? She’s tried, but neither Wal-Mart nor Jack’s nor the nursing home cafeteria have shown interest in an applicant with psoriasis and a ninth-grade education.

The “ninth-grade education” is where the problem is here. The fact that she hasn’t finished school doesn’t make her stupid by any means, but it does maker her ignorant and increases the likelihood of her living exactly the kind of life she lives right now. I’m quite poor at the moment, but at least I finished high school, and have made good progress through college. My poverty is temporary. Hers is likely to be generational, as is that of another woman mentioned in the article who is a grandmother at 37.

The solution here is, of course, to make sure the state provides whatever help it can to get this woman a GED. Free birth control for her, if she wants it, would also be a good idea. The state should also do whatever it can to make sure her children complete high school and don’t have kids at an early age.

Of course the state in question is Alabama, so none of this will happen.

I feel for this woman and her family. They’re going to lose this couch at some point, and that sucks, especially given the amount of money they’ve already sunk into it. But in the end, that could be for the best. That $75, or whatever, per week, could be better spent on almost anything else. Well, anything else that isn’t rent-to-own.

Is This the Best We Can Do?


So check out this jolly little map. It shows press freedom levels for the year 2014.

Click to embiggen!

For those who are not up on your geography, the United States is shown as having a “satisfactory situation”. That means the press here is pretty much free to report on whatever they’d like, and do so safely. That sounds good until you notice all those countries in white. Those countries have a stronger, freer press than we do.

Yes, countries like Poland, Germany, Canada, the Nordics, and even fucking Namibia have a better press freedom situation than the United States does. “Satisfactory situation” my ass. Let’s step it up, America. We’re 46th in the world for press freedom. We can and should do better. A lot better. 45 places better, to be exact.

Those who are curious can read the full report here.

Gay Marriage Everywhere I’ve Lived


Yesterday, Arizona hopped on the bandwagon, however involuntarily, and became the latest state to allow same-sex marriage. I’ve lived in, or spent an extensive amount of time in, Arizona, California, Alaska, Washington and Oklahoma. So…every state I’ve been in for more than a short amount of time now has gay marriage. You’re welcome. ;)

This leaves the question of how long it will be before the rest follow suit. I’m going to guess it won’t be long for much of the country. Wyoming is making it a thing next week, for example. So that’s good.

But there will be holdouts, and I’ll tell you where those holdouts will be: The Deep South, with the exception of Florida. Mississippi and Alabama especially are going to fight this to the bitter end. Why? You got me. I have no idea. It’s just that these are always the fail states in the fail part of the country. Sad, but true. Though, please, by all means prove me wrong.

It’s All Over But the Screeching


So earlier this week, I spent much of my time in Vegas. This included the days when, suddenly, gay marriage kind of exploded outward in one big rainbow cloud. The first I knew of it was when I saw a wedding chapel with a bright sign with a rainbow background saying something about it, and suggesting gays should come get married right now.

Ah, cynical capitalism. I love it.

Anyhow, obviously I’m quite pleased by SCOTUS refusing to hear the cases, and I’m pleased by the recent moves from the Ninth Circuit, even if Kennedy’s weird waffling on the issue made things a bit confusing for a few days.

Still, this is going along even quicker than I expected, and I think it is obvious that very soon we’ll have gay marriage everywhere. There just isn’t any legal leg for anyone against it to stand on.

marriage-equality-population

TV Review – Doctor Who – “Kill the Moon”


I’m occasionally disappointed in an episode of Doctor Who. The series has had some great stories over the decades, but they’ve also had things like “The Twin Dilemma” and “Love and Monsters”. These episodes are annoying, but at least they aren’t generally an insult to my intelligence.

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to “Kill the Moon”.

It’s hard to put into words how much I disliked this story. The idea of something being “wrong” with the Moon is an interesting one, and the series generally does “base under siege” stories well, which is what I thought this story would be. I was incorrect.

Spoilers from here on out.

Instead of some interesting alien menace (webs? Bring on the Eight Legs, or the Yeti!), we get giant bacteria. We’re told that they’re single-celled organisms, which seems extremely unlikely given what they look like. But, you know, I could just about go with that, because ok. Doctor Who, for all its greatness, has always been more fiction than science.

But then we find out what’s really going on: the moon is, and has always been, a giant egg and there’s a creature inside it that’s about to hatch, and now it’s suddenly gaining a lot of mass, fucking with the tides and the like. I’m not sure exactly how that’s happening, because where is the mass coming from?

Anyhow, the world has sent up the last space shuttle and the last astronauts (also there are apparently no more satellites for some reason?), with 100 nuclear bombs to try and fix this problem. They don’t know the moon is really an egg, but once this is discovered, the bombs are rather conveniently enough to kill the creature inside the egg.

This then leads to a bizarre scene where Clara decides she can’t make up her mind about whether or not they should kill this creature, so she tells the people of Earth to decide by leaving their lights on or turning them off. This means only the people on the night side within her field of vision get a vote, but eh. The lights then turn off in large clusters, because apparently that’s how these things go.

Then after everyone votes to kill it, she overrides the vote at the last minute, the Doctor takes everyone off the moon and they all watch (and hear, somehow), from Earth as the moon hatches and some space thing flies away as the eggshell conveniently disintegrates, leaving no debris to fuck things up further. So now the Earth has no moon, but, hey, seconds later it leaves an egg of equal mass, because that’s how science works.

The_Stupid__It_Burns_by_Plognark

As I said, this episode really, seriously is an insult to the intellect. As one of my friends said, there isn’t even any bad science so much as there is no science. Nothing about this story makes any sense.

And the ethical conundrum? Do you kill one (potentially) sentient lifeform in order to almost certainly save billions of certainly sentient lifeforms? Fuck and yes! It’s the only correct and ethical choice to make. It sucks, but there you are. Of course as we learn from the story it would have been the wrong choice to make, since the eggshell disintegrated and the creature laid a new moon that was the same mass as the old one, but, hey, I guess Clara and company should have just known that was going to happen! Or they should have just “trusted in the universe”, but that’s basically religion, and it can go suck a bag of dicks.

I really, really disliked this episode, as you can tell.

What made it truly annoying was the fact that the character stuff in here worked brilliantly! Courtney is now basically a companion (more than one story and a trip in the TARDIS), and her chemistry with Clara is excellent. It’s also nice to see that we have the potential for a situation where the companions are two Coal Hill teachers and one student.

I also really liked Clara having it out with the Doctor at the end. Shades of Tegan telling him it just wasn’t fun anymore. It was a good scene, and it’s always nice to have someone put the Doctor in his place when he needs it.

But nice those moments were, there were different and better ways to bring them about than what happened in this giant misstep of an episode. Hopefully what we get next week will be better. It’s hard to see how it could be worse.

Why I Hate the Internet During October


Fucking zombies. Jesus Christ, I’m sick of zombies. They’re possibly the stupidest, most implausible, non-threatening monsters ever dreamed up by the mind of man. They’re just the worst. The fact that some people seem to think the zombie apocalypse could actually ever be a thing means that some people are total morons at best.

And now, just as last month I had to tolerate pumpkin spice everything on Facebook, this month I’m going to have to tolerate fucking zombies on everything on Facebook. I predict the following will show up on my feed sometime during this month:

A cat in a zombie costume
A dog in a zombie costume
People in zombie costumes
Zombie Oreos
15,000 different JPGs about zombie preparedness.

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God, I’m sick of it already.

A Bit of Forward and Back


I just read an article on the Daily Beast about a jail facility in New Hampshire. It’s really a model of excellence on some levels and a model of failure on others. Consider the following quote:

There are many things about Cheshire County Jail that you’d be hard-pressed to find in any other carceral space in the country. The warden, Rick Van Wickler, prides himself on the building’s environmental design—complete with a geo-thermic heating and cooling system—and overall low-carbon footprint. The correctional officers insist that there’s “very little conflict” between the 150 prisoners currently being held at this 240-bed facility. They also claim that they’ve had relatively few issues with contraband and zero escapes in the 4 years of the jail’s existence, thanks in part to high-tech surveillance and the 118 cameras spread throughout the site. Boasting accessible health and psychiatric services, over 100 community volunteers and the strict enforcement of U.N. standards on the use of solitary confinement, which limit isolating a prisoner to 15 days, Cheshire County Jail has attracted national attention as a rare model of progressive incarceration.

I’m indifferent to the carbon footprint part, but the rest is excellent, especially the part about not holding people in solitary forever. The population:bed ratio is also excellent, as is the inclusion of psychiatric care.

So what’s the problem?

Well, first off, inmates aren’t allowed outside to exercise. That’s a violation of their Constitutional rights, and for those of you who are going to whine about, “Oh, those poor babies,” allow me to remind you that “Constitutional rights” are also what we call “laws”. It’s also just common sense to allow people a little access to the outdoors.

Second, inmates are charged a small fortune for just about everything. Phone calls start at $1.80 for the initial connection and are 31 cents a minute after that. As the inmates aren’t allowed in-person visits (more on this in a moment), that’s the only way they can keep in contact with their family and friends on the outside.

Again, for those of you who are now going to say, “Oh, these poor little babies can’t talk to their mommy. Boo-fucking-hoo!”, well…first off, you’re an asshole. Stop reading my blog. But beyond that, studies have proven time and again that having strong family connections decreases the likelihood of reoffending. Further, many of these people are simply awaiting trial and, therefore, are completely innocent of the crime they’re accused of until the state proves otherwise. That’s kind of an important distinction.

To continue on the expenses, the article says they’re charged a co-payment for medical visits, and it implies they’re even charged for things like papers and pencils. Ok, to a certain extent, that isn’t horribly unreasonable, but these are presumably people without much in the way of money. Why do I assume that? Because if they had money, they would have posted bail and wouldn’t be in jail while awaiting trial.

Finally, the fact that the inmates aren’t allowed in-person visits, except in unusual circumstances, is a real problem. Again we come back to the fact that building up strong family connections helps keep people from reoffending. On a more practical level, if inmates have strong family connections while in prison, it might give them someone to live with once they get out. Allowing only video call visits (that the inmates pay for), is problematical. If nothing else, inmates shouldn’t have to pay for visits period.

So there is much to admire with this facility, and much to dislike. I’d say it’s five steps forward and four back, but at least it is some progress, and it’s clear from a quote at the end of the article that the warden has his heart in the right place.

“It’s quiet and clean. That’s the way I like things,” [warden] Van Wickler says. “Still, 40 percent of these people probably don’t deserve to be here. If we lived in some sort of utopian society they’d be in a situation that actually helped them.”

Of course we don’t need a Utopian society to help these people. We just need a good solid dose of pragmatism and kindness.

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