Raising a half-empty glass to the end of 2010

We are about to take our first tentative steps into the New Year. January comes with a time-honored sense of renewal. But this year, I forgot to renew my renewal. My hunch is that by the time the politicians and their enablers finish off 2011, we'll be ready to use our return tickets on the Mayflower.

My retirement plans have been postponed. I'd hoped to bid adieu to my productive years, settle back with a good book and live off home equity. But lately, my house is living off me. For a while, in theory, I was a wealthy land owner. Then reality and its mortgage deconstructionists poked their fool heads into my front door. I'm surprised that Bank of America didn't try to foreclose. (My mortgage is with Wells Fargo, but evidently that kind of detail has not stopped BofA from attempting to repossess every structure west of the Atlantic Ocean.)

Despite the fact that there is no inflation, that my salary is the same this year as last year, that I was able to refinance, reducing my mortgage by 2 points, despite the fact that the kids are grown and making their own way in the world — despite all this, it appears I am broker than ever.

Please explain to me why my two old cars got older and my auto insurance rates went up.

I've finally figured out e-mail and Gmail, and texting and MyFace and YourFace, and the correct number of times I have to press the "8" key to create the letter "v" when I'm attempting to send a cryptic message to one of my kids (the only communication method to which they will actually respond). Personally, I find the intermingling of human voices more satisfying. My preference would be to pick up a phone and place a call — except that everyone I call sends me to voicemail.

Last winter, the cost of heating the house with our ancient oil furnace was so prohibitive, not to mention a waste of fossil fuel, that my wife and I cleverly switched to electric room heaters, warming only those portions of the place we were actually inhabiting. This economizing got us a nasty note from our power company, stating that due to the sudden increase in our use of electricity, we'd been placed on the hog-consumer list and would be paying a premium rate for all future current.

Somebody has got to do something about the decline of everything.

We invented government to finesse a reasonable level of civility. We assumed that by pooling our good intentions, we would develop basic standards and systematize decency. But it turns out that government is staffed by people. Therein lies its flaw. When I think of people, I see unending examples of injustice, disinterest, self-serving sanctimony, greed, hypocrisy, ineffective good intentions and worse.

Please note that my observations about people also apply to corporations, which, as you know, the Supreme Court instructs us are people, too.

If pressed, I'll admit to being a glass-half-empty kind of guy. Perhaps someone will fill the glass and I'll start to feel hopeful about 2011. So far, the nicest thing about the New Year is that Mark Twain's autobiography is on the best seller list. Of course, Twain said he was an optimist who did not arrive. I'm a pessimist who did.

Charles Kraus lives and writes in Seattle. His e-mail is ctmagician@gmail.com.

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