A Week in The Land of the Fray…

Or is it weak in what was formerly land of the free. It is surely fraying. I offer a single week’s worth of evidence from the front lines of my life.

Since I, too, am fraying at age 78, I’m not sure I can remember all the frustrations of just the last week or so, but I’ll try.

Let’s begin with T-Mobile. I decided to splurge on an iPhone 14 pro, since T-Mobile offered me a $400 trade-in on my 4 year old iPhone Xr. I treat my devices well. Usually, I keep my them longer; the Xr looked like new and still had 84% battery life. I received my new phone by mail and immediately used the pre-paid mailer to send in the old one. Fortunately, I kept the tracking number.

Eleven days later, I received a text from T-Mobile, asking me to return the trade-in phone. I checked the tracking, which told me it had been delivered to T-Mobile 9 days previously (2 days after I shipped it). I tried to access the T-Mobile website on my laptop and kept getting an error “our wires seem to be crossed”. About a frustrating hour later, I figured out this was because of some incompatibility with Brave Browser, T-Mobile and not my VPN. The website also showed they were still waiting for the phone. Before I figured out the browser problem, I tried to contact T-Mobile via a chat. It was automated and asked me to log in to my account, which I was unable to do. I barely avoided a head explosion. Long story short, three days later I got an email thanking me for the trade in. BTW, unlike when you trade in your car and pay sales tax on only the difference between the purchase price and the value of the trade-in, with phones, you pay sales tax on the full amount. Why? Because the state can (screw you in any way they like). End of the T-Mobile thread.

My car was making a strange sound, which varied in frequency with speed over the road. It was unrelated to engine rpm’s. I called the Subaru dealer to ask if I could bring it in. They said there was an appointment in 3 weeks. I asked if I could at least bring it in to see if it was safe to drive, lest I make things worse by continuing to drive it. Answer: “NO”. This was the dealer, BTW, to which I no longer bring either of our Subarus for service because they replaced my wife’s (she is a tall, slender - not a little old lady, but she drives like one) brakes at 20,000 miles. I was away when this happened and she didn’t know better. When I got back, I called to ask how this could a gently driven car with so few miles could possibly need brakes. They said they can corrode even with low mileage, if left outside. I told them the car is always garaged. No answer. No more business from me. I only called them when my regular mechanic told me this was something he could not fix, as it was drive train related.

So, I took it to a transmission place, which determined it was a rear wheel bearing. They had the parts two days later and fixed it in one day. He told me that the brake on the rear wheel was “locked”& he released it without difficulty and without charge. Now, these brakes on my car were replaced a year ago by our mechanic and I could always hear them squeal when new when the windows are open (rarely), so I forgot about it. So, I’m wondering if the brakes were installed properly and if the brake problem caused the bearing problem. Since both problems were on the same wheel, I would guess so. Anyway, noise gone my wallet is $500 lighter.

The saga continues. When I picked up the car, the transmission guy showed me that one of the lug nuts was missing from the wheel they worked on. He said it was like that when he got it and didn’t have one that fit. So, I drove a half mile to my tire guys (who rotate tires you buy from them for free every 6 months) to get a lug nut. We checked the threads on the lug and they were perfectly clean and un-rusted, which meant that, obviously, the guys who just worked on the car had lost the nut and could not bring themselves to be honest. Typical America 2022 - honesty is extinct, without ever having been placed on the ‘endangered’ list. Who knew it was unsustainable? Oh, I nearly forgot. A week earlier, I had to buy a plastic wheel cover for $80 to replace the front one (a cheap plastic thing) which simply disappeared. End car saga.

Next: the electrician. I got an electrical estimate for about eight items in my home. These included installation of a new wall plug in a bathroom, replacement of two ceiling fans, re-wiring two radon fans, as well as replacing several light fixtures. The estimate of $500 for the wall plug seemed excessive, so I nixed that. It was for my new Toto “Washlet”, the greatest invention of all time, IMHO. Anyway, the electrician, who seemed to be a nice young man, came and did the work. While he was still here, I checked the item as he finished each. The ceiling fan on the back porch did not work. He came back and had to take it apart, only to discover he had forgotten to attach an internal wire. One of the radon fans he re-wired had an integral junction box. It was definitely small, but he simply left it open and did not even try to fit the wires and wire caps inside and screw on the cover. I called him back and asked him if that would pass a code inspection. He acknowledged it would not and re-did it with the cover closed.

Everything else seemed OK. But… Next morning, I went out to my car in the garage, only to discover that one of the three new ceiling lights (a lightweight 4 foot double tube LED fixture which replaced an old fluorescent tube fixture) he had installed, had fallen off the screws in the ceiling and was hanging only by its power cable. Instead of using the hooks which came with the fixture, he simply put a screw into the ceiling at each end and slipped a slot in the fixture over the head of the screws; it was absolutely certain to fall, this was so negligent. So, I called back the company which expressed suitable regret. I said nothing, but noticed that the other fixtures were also loose and likely to suffer the same fate. He had, again, done only the absolute minimum to stick them on the ceiling, very insecurely. As with honesty, careful work in America is now extinct. Competence presumes some inherent desire to do an acceptable job. I wish that desire were one-tenth as contagious as Covid.

Next, my next door neighbor texted me to let me know he was having some major landscaping done, involving several pieces of heavy equipment. He told me he had walked off the property line with the contractor and told him to not go over the line, as I have an underground sprinkler system, subject to damage from heavy equipment. So, I kept an eye on the area. On day one, there were already impressions from a tracked back hoe which had run over all three of the sprinkler heads on my property, near the property line. I tested them and let my neighbor know they had been run over and think they were not damaged. I placed one foot tall plastic lawn markers at each sprinkler head and pointed them out to the foreman. I told him they had been run over and will have the sprinkler company check them for any hidden damage when they come in a few weeks to winterize the system. So, more carelessness and negligence. Since it is almost impossible to not be aware of all the unprovoked violent assaults in every (democrat) city, my perspective is somewhat mellowed. Though I resent all the aforementioned negligence and incompetence, I am grateful to have not have become or had any loved ones (yet) become a victim of a racially-motivated assault or robbery. These events, along with smash & grab of merchandise, are the other - under-reported - pandemic here. These assaults usually go unpunished, while a friend’s daughter was arrested and charged with a felony for protesting at an abortion clinic.

Ah! Almost forgot. After 8 years with a Kindle Fire 7, I traded it in for a new Kindle Fire 8. What with the trade-in and other promotions, I got it for about $15! I was quite pleased with it. Nonetheless, as with most everything I buy, there was a problem. About once a week, for no reason, I got a message saying the device had detected water in its interior and would not be able to accept charging until the moisture was gone. Only it had never been anywhere near water or even high humidity. Through searching the web, I learned that there was a known problem with the sensor. So I finally decided to contact Amazon since the warranty was going to run out in 10 days. They promptly agreed to replace it with a new one and provided me with a prepaid mailing label (these seem to recur in my life). This was Friday. As I didn’t want to be without the device for the weekend, I didn’t mail it in until Monday. Amazon contacted me Wednesday, saying they checked the device - it had no water damage - and were sending the replacement by 2-day shipping. I received a tracking email the next day, telling me of Saturday delivery.

On Saturday, I checked the tracking and saw the package - along with a second package from a different source in Amazon - was “out for delivery” and would arrive by 8pm. At 17:30, I got the notice from my front video surveillance camera that a package had been delivered by the USPS. I went out and found only one package - NOT the Kindle. 8pm came and went. The tracking still said “out for delivery”. The next morning, the USPS tracking said as of 12:47 Sunday morning “awaiting delivery scan.” Amazon website simply said “package delayed.” So, I wondered all day Sunday, whether the package had been lost or stolen while in the possession of the USPS. Now, I tend to be obsessive about such things, and I was. Long story short, the package was finally delivered Monday, two days late, after have been “out for delivery” 2 days earlier. Your guess is as good as mine as to why the USPS delivered one package from Amazon, but not the other, when both were in the truck for delivery. One of the many mysteries of life in the US in 2022.

I’m pretty sure there was more, but I can’t remember just now. As I said, I, too, am fraying but in different dimensions. I can assure you, gentle reader, that it was a week-full of aggravation, and unusual only for the grouped occurrences. Usually, life is a merely a steady stream of malfeasance. Watch for updates in comments if I remember more (and if you can still stand these stories of terminal decline of what was once a reasonably competent culture).


This is what I call the grinding friction of living in a low-trust, low-competence society. When everything is ten times as difficult as it should be, takes fives times as long, and worst of all, is never done, because there’s always something wrong with the work, or something left undone, and seemingly all of the buttons you can push to move things along are connected to nothing, you (or at least I) are inclined to lapse into a tropical lassitude of “why try?” and just let things slide. I don’t think of it so much as Atlas Shrugged but rather Sisyphus saying, “Well, the stone really wants to be at the bottom of the hill, and that’s fine with me.”

But of course, unless you live in a tropical country where everything works that way, you, as a privileged deplorable, are expected to perform with Teutonic punctuality and precision when it comes to complying with every mandate of the coercive state. This is why the coming reckoning will be so merciless.


I have had to replace my brakes even more frequently. I believe there are two synergistic contributing factors. First, if a car is not driven every day, it can have asymmetric condensation on the brake rotors. This can cause asymmetric rust. If driven every day, tiny asymmetries will average out.

Second, is that the manufacturers have done everything possible to cut weight. This does not leave a lot of metal on the rotors to allow them to be turned to get rid of the asymmetric rust spots.


That’s an apt way to describe it. Being biologically oriented, I would think in terms of what friction does to skin, if forceful enough. It causes abrasions. Friction, while on point, does not include the effect on the object of said friction. Abrasion, thus, seems even more on point and abrasions - while hardly life threatening (unless infected with flesh-eating bacteria) - are remarkably irritating/painful when fresh.


I :heart::heart:“land of the fray”…


Car rust can actually be worse in a garaged car than one left outside: higher temperature means rust happens faster.

Anyway, I prefer “the land of the fee and the home of the knave”.


This talk comes to mind: Samo Burja: How Civilizations Collapse | Samo Burja

We need to seriously consider the possibility that we are a post-industrial society⁠—not in a positive sense, but in the sense that the Industrial Revolution has stopped. Civilizational collapse in conditions of very advanced technology might very much look like something we have right now, where what was once the product of advanced rational systems, or at least self-catalyzing systems of production, has reverted to a more customary system. Where are things still run as they were 20 years ago, or 50 years ago? We still have the same bureaucratic and economic institutions, with only very marginal changes in a single domain of progress: CPUs, which very few of which are made in California.

A little provocative, no? People in a society tend to not acknowledge its collapse or decline. This, by the way, is true of the Roman Empire, which is the most popular example in our culture. You only find letters of people complaining that the roads are awfully unsafe this year, but mostly not thinking that some sort of fundamental change is apace. The collapse of the Roman Empire is much less about the burning cities and much more about GDP shrinking 1% a year, which means that on the books it looks pretty much the same. Right now, the market seems to be about the same or even better than it was a few months ago, yet common sense tells us production has fallen massively. Okay, so if such a huge change can be papered over with government intervention or with intervention of other private actor players, what about slower moving changes? How would we even know if GDP per capita had in fact been declining 1% a year for the last 20 years?


CW, you are living in what I like to call the world of the credentialed moron. Usually, this title is reserved for those folks who have multiple University stickers on their car, like Brown, or LaSalle, and yet they drive like single-celled organisms, i.e., like they have no brains. With dealing with businesses, my rule of thumb is A) if it is a multinational corp, then don’t bother trying to fight the machine. Just do what you need to do to get them out of your hair; B) if it is a regional corp, you are likely to get slightly better customer service from them than you would the multinational corp, but all the other problems persist (at least they apologize and thank you when they are done); C) if you are dealing with a small mom-and-pop, they are not likely to have what you need, but they treat you like a king in trying to get you to buy what you don’t need. Such is our current state of affairs.

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I heard: “Give me Librium or give me meth”.


Or lithium. Give me lithium or give me meth!!!

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This reminded me of this book and review:
Reading List: At Our Wits’ End


If I may add to your tale of woe, CW, I did a long road trip in SW US. Unexpected finding was that about 3 out of 4 gas stations were having problems with their pumps – generally because the “Pay at the Pump” equipment was malfunctioning.

Why this problem? A very long extrapolation is that it might be a shortage of qualified maintenance personnel.

Had a rather interesting conversation with a gentleman involved in drilling & hydraulic fracturing oil wells in that part of the world. Field work is well-paid, but physically & mentally demanding; teams of as many as 40 people have to perform critical choreographed tasks in the heat & the wind & the dust. The gentleman’s observation was that the skills essential for safety & productivity have gone down. Pre-Lockdowns, the average guy on site had years of experience – now, he has only months. Lots of skilled workers who were furloughed during the Lockdowns have not come back. I wonder if this loss of skills & experience may be affecting many other businesses too?

On the brighter side, one evening we had dinner in the Trinity Hotel in Carlsbad NM – an 1886 bank building which an entrepreneur has loving re-imagined as a boutique hotel & restaurant. Even on a weekday evening in these fretful times, the place was packed. The staff – male & female, young & old, black & hispanic & white – were all welcoming and efficient, and clearly enjoyed working together. The equally mixed happy customers mostly gave the impression of people who worked for their living, producing something real. Everywhere there were smiles & hugs. It was like the world once was – and hopefully someday will be again.


We have incorporated so many rules and restrictions into our society that we have enormous friction in creating a new enterprise to solve a problem. You thus find the most innovation in the spaces which are less regulated, or where you can get away with breaking the law, like Airbnb, Uber or Lyft.


There is another, desired, effect of such density of rules. It is a necessary condition for the state’s maximum ability to employ Beria’s dictum: “bring me the man and I will find you the crime”. In today’s America, anyone can be easily deemed guilty of some crime or other - just like the former USSR; it makes for ease of political prosecution. All that is required is that you have the wrong political views and come to the attention of your enemies in the state apparatus. At minimum, a “successful” defense results in financial ruin.