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Three signs of our hard times, in order of ascending weirdness:

1) Dollar stores are doing top dollar business. In Newsweek, Daniel Gross looks at buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts' one big success (amidst a bevy of big failures) over the past year: its $7.3 billion investment in Dollar General, up a smart 30.8 percent since KKR purchased the bargain-bin company in July 2007. (Other dollar store chains are also doing well, but not quite as well as this.) Why? Gross explains: "Rather than simply pile up cheap bottles of detergents and ultra-cheap clothes -- truth be told, only about 30 percent of the items it stocks retail for less than a buck -- Dollar General ... tried to remodel the bargain basement into a condensed version of Wal-Mart—tightly run, more convenient, less overwhelming." It doesn't hurt that Dollar Stores are still meccas for ironic hipsters who love displaying their latest finds -- or even reworking dollar store junk into marginally less-junky crafts. (See here and here.)

2) Coffee, tea, or free? Struggling British Airways is asking its employees to work up to a month for nothing. As CNN reports, "In an e-mail to all its staff, the airline offered workers between one and four weeks of unpaid leave -- but with the option to work during this period." A month!? I'm not sure even
Office Space
's evil boss Bill Lumbergh would have had the chutzpah to ask for that.

3) Rental home hostages. CNN's Ed Lavandera reports on a strange and disturbing result of the housing bust: In Phoenix, Arizona, smugglers of illegal immigrants frequently hold these immigrants hostage until they agree to pay far more than they had originally agreed to to be ferried across the border. Making the kidnappers' jobs much easier: the glut of rental houses on the market because their owners can't sell them. There were an estimated 370 kidnappings in Phoenix last year, Lavandera reports, which means hundreds of hostages in some 80 "drop houses," many in middle-class neighborhoods. This one's worth watching.