Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Stimulus vs. Sequestration... and Bad Tattoos

The news is filled with stories that elicit reactions, and as I'm catching up on the paper I have plenty, each worthy of contemplating but not so complex it requires an entire post. Here are just two...

A Seattle Times story, "Scientists Feeling Sequester Pinch" (May 1) describes researchers' visit to Sen. Patty Murray to lament the tightening of federal funds for their projects. For example, an oncologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer research center (who had "spun off" two private companies of his own from his work) complained that with his federal grant halved, "one of his senior staffers left to take an industry job," and several students' positions may not be subsidized.

Leave aside that these workers are moving from government to private sector employ, which is fine with me. The issue that perplexes is "how does the sequester mesh with all the federal stimulus money that Pres. Obama distributed into the economy?"  Didn't the feds assign $787 billion to rebound from the big recession?  And now they've just raised the amount of Stimulus funds to $840 billion! Noted: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was to make up for the 2008 across-the-board economic recession, and the Sequester was to carve a budget for this year. But it's all from the same source, headed out to generally the same or similar recipients.

Did you think the Stimulus was done, its funds distributed to worthy shovel-ready projects? Then you must've missed the huge explosion of publicity when an extra fifty-three billion dollars got tacked on just last year. Don't you feel the new economic verve?

Well, you probably wouldn't, since according to Recovery.gov, the administrative body created to ensure transparency in Stimulus disbursal, just $252 billion of the $840 billion allocated has actually been spent ($2 billion won't ever be spent, because a few projects missed deadlines for use). Even so, billions have gone out there for health research. Please explain: What's keeping that infusion of funding from offsetting sequestration?

Tattoo gives new meaning to 'eyes on the back of my head.'
Over the past few days I've had several reminders of another conundrum of life: tattoos. 1) A piece in the NY Times yesterday by a Baby Boomer who regrets the droopy green unicorn on her likely-droopy right buttock. 2) Driving through the Rainier Valley section of Seattle, I saw many newly-opened, brightly-painted tattoo parlors, whose names coincidentally included the word "Lucky." 3) A news story revealed that a New York realty firm offered a 15% pay raise to staffers tattooing the company logo anywhere on their bodies (40 of 800 employees obliged). 4) And the Northwest has sunbathed in luxuriously warm temperatures this week, exposing the ubiquitous ink that usually resides beneath sweatshirts and flannel.

Rarely do I meet a tattooed person who, if it were free, instant and painless, wouldn't wash off at least some of the needle-scars they paid for. Googling "tattoo removal, Seattle," I'm amused to find my own dermatologist on the lucrative laser bandwagon, and further entertained reading Yelp notations like "it's not really their fault that this ugly green tattoo is taking so damn long to disappear!" and "tattoo removal is almost the worst pain in the world."

People on their way to get tattoos don't read Yelp recommendations for removal clinics, I'll grant you. But they should: "I thought I'd have to pay an arm and a leg to get this tattoo off my neck." What good is a clean neck when you're missing an arm and a leg?

A Los Angeles Yelper helpfully told a cash-strapped peer she could save money by having a new design inked on top of the old. Which is a much better idea than the failed results she reports: "My sister still has a shadow of the words 'PIMP' in Old English on the back of her neck." A woman with "PIMP" in Old English on her neck? What was she thinking?

Louise Rafkin, who wrote the NY Times piece, remembers the youthful exuberance that led to her tattoo but recognizes the truth: "So now I'm middle-aged with a misshapen cartoon animal on my rear." Louise, you're not the only one. Take a look at some of the worst-tattoo sites and you're in for a giggle. In fact the TLC TV network did a two-part special on "America's Worst Tattoos," featuring the brilliantly-hued tattoo artist Megan Massacre.
Megan Massacre at work

She's in the process of lasering off a large arm tattoo, inked by an old boyfriend who "did a really awful job." Professionally, she also covers up others' lousy art with larger drawings, an effort she calls "polishing a turd." In fact, she turned a little owl near the toes of a Rachael Ray Show audience-member into a large, rust and teal-colored feather sweeping up the woman's ankle. So feminine.

At 27, Ms. Massacre's learned some rules, like facing tattoos toward the center of the body, fitting their sizes to the target extremities, and avoiding children's portraits: "They can come out looking demonic or like an alien or like an old person," she told the New York Daily News. "I saw somebody who had a tattoo of a baby and it looked just like Richard Simmons.”

Not quite Richard Simmons, but not a baby, either...

"Not having a tattoo in Seattle is like living in Los Angeles without sunglasses," opines a directory on the Seattleite website, and it's definitely true. "I love this place because Spyder is a genius," gushed a patron of Apocalypse Tattoo. "The ferret skeleton tattoo he did for me is incredibly detailed..." Ferret skeleton?

Sometimes it's tough for me to focus on the faces of baristas and sales clerks who are heavily tattooed. I respect them as individuals but worry that by so distractingly inking their skin they've made their lives more difficult. I'd rather notice their communication than their "sleeves" and the glint of silver in their tongues, or the hole-enlarging rings they've inserted in their floppy lobes. I know there's a story for every drawing and puncture, and I'm dying to ask, but wouldn't deign to intrude.

Is this a youth-versus-age thing? Not sure, but as these human art displays get older, they'll watch their tats morph into distorted shapes, or regret permanently scarring themselves. The one thing we know is that change is constant, and when people develop, evolve, grow and droop, they'll see their early choices differently. All this synthesizes down to: Don't get tattoos; spare yourself, even if having them now seems the most meaningful commitment you can make.

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