Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Goin' Klute

My head is sore. Not my brain but my scalp. It’s been the victim of yet another one of those doofus mishaps that seem to happen only to me and which amuse my friends and family to no end.

I had loaded the groceries into the car trunk, slid into the driver’s seat, closed the door, and buckled up the seat belt. That’s when the fun started. Somehow, some of my fine Irish hair got entangled with the sliding shoulder-belt adjuster. I unbuckled the waist-belt portion, which gave me a little more maneuverability, but my hair was still snagged.

Let’s see. What are my options here. Call 911? Too embarrassing, and tangled hair might seem too frivolous for a 911 call. Plus, there was the risk that the audio of the call would wind up being featured in one of those jokey dumb-things-people-call-911-about news segments. I could call AAA. At best that’s a 30- to 40-minute wait, and the frozen foods would start to thaw.

Well, it’s not a huge chunk of hair. Maybe I should just cut myself free. But with what? Maybe I could flag down a cartboy or shopper and ask for a boxcutter or scissors or even nail clippers. Two or three minutes tick by, but no one passes near enough to call to.

Right. House keys is it. I blindly grope around in my purse, find the keyring, and choose the key with the deepest, jaggiest cuts. Some hair got cut, some sawn through, and some pretty much got plucked, but I did free my head from the shoulder belt.

On the left side of my head, there’s an obvious mangled section of hair that’s 4, 5, 6 inches shorter than the rest of my lustrous mane. When Mr. Nearing first sees it, he just turns away without comment (silently laughing, I‘m sure*). Just for that, I refuse to tell him what happened for an entire day. Now for a new hairdo. I’d really like to try for punk-spiky, but I’ll probably have to settle for a modified shag cut. I’m thinking Jane Fonda in Klute.

*To be fair to Mr. N., this wasn’t my first auto/hair disaster. The others involved windows. My other major hair disaster involved the metal frame of a sofa bed.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight has some
illustrative fun with the Republican Road to Recovery, a/k/a The Republican Budget Pamphlet. And the Fark Political Brigade has been busy shredding and regluing Boehner’s Blue Binder. If you get a chance, scroll through the thread for some fun artwork.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Things I just learned I didn't know

Dopey is the only one of Snow White’s dwarfs without a beard. I had to look that up in order to finish yesterday’s NYT crossword puzzle. All the minutiae I’ve struggled to learn -- Latin, Spanish, French, and German expressions, calculus using Roman numerals, international currencies, river boundaries, Elfish -- in order to puzzle proficiently and Dopey trips me up.

Interestingly, among potential dwarf names that were rejected by Disney were Shifty, Awful, Chesty, Dirty, Goopy, Hoppy, Neurtsy, Sniffy, Strutty, Titsy, and Tubby, as well as Tipsy, Burpy, Cranky, Scrappy, Sleazy, Jumpy, Dizzy, Weepy, and Tearful.

Just in case this info’s needed for a future puzzle, these are the names of the Seven Duffs working at the Duff Gardens Theme Park in The Simpsons: Tipsy, Queasy, Surly, Sleazy, Edgy, Dizzy, and Remorseful.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Yeah, capitalism’s a bitch. Deal with it.

A reader’s response to today’s NYT OP/ED contribution: a reprint of a letter of resignation submitted by Jake DeSantis, Executive Vice President of AIG-Financial Products.

Lately, a lot of people have been experiencing a version of the distress, frustration and anger Mr. DeSantis describes. You work hard; you do nothing wrong; your company tanks because other people were stupid or wasteful; your own employment and income prospects turn dark. You are asked to continue working, to help save the company, but there are no guarantees . . .

Unless the taxpayers are underwriting your million dollar contractually guaranteed bonus!

Few workers have been offered that kind of safety net, because few work for private businesses funded with public dollars. That seems to be the part of the puzzle that Mr. DeSantis and his colleagues have not figured out. They are basically civil servants now, and their contracts for continued employment should have been negotiated to accept that reality: neither asking anyone to work for $1 nor guaranteeing anyone that the dollar would turn into millions at some future date.

I have nothing against Mr. DeSantis personally. I applaud his decision to donate his post-tax bonus to charity. I agree that he and his co-workers did not deserve to be publically heckled and I would not expect any of them to work for free. But he's not just the victim of "politics" or "Washington." He's the victim of a form of denial that seems to afflict many in institutions that have received federal funds.

When the big profits disappeared, so did the big incomes. Deal with it.

We better get our heads straight about it

From No Return to Normal,
James Kenneth Galbraith
Geithner’s banking plan would prolong the state of denial…. Delay is not innocuous. When a bank’s insolvency is ignored, the incentives for normal prudent banking collapse. Management has nothing to lose. It may take big new risks, in volatile markets like commodities, in the hope of salvation before the regulators close in. Or it may loot the institution—nomenklatura privatization, as the Russians would say—through unjustified bonuses, dividends, and options. It will never fully disclose the extent of insolvency on its own.

The most likely scenario, should the Geithner plan go through, is a combination of looting, fraud, and a renewed speculation in volatile commodity markets such as oil. Ultimately the losses fall on the public anyway, since deposits are largely insured. There is no chance that the banks will simply resume normal long-term lending. To whom would they lend? For what? Against what collateral? And if banks are recapitalized without changing their management, why should we expect them to change the behavior that caused the insolvency in the first place?

From Forget About Recovery,
James Howard Kuntsler
At the risk of confirming my critics' dumbest charge -- that I am a "doomer" -- the mandate of clarity requires me to ask: to what state of affairs do we expect to recover? If the answer is a return to an economy based on building ever more suburban sprawl, on credit card over-spending, on routine securitized debt shenanigans in banking, and on consistently lying to ourselves about what reality demands of us, then we are a mortally deluded nation. We're done with that, we're beyond that now, we've crossed the frontier and left that all behind, and we'd better get our heads straight about it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I’m guessing disgusting stains for $75 billion, Tim

Okay. I’ve read (1) the press release for Timothy Geithner’s PPPIP Legacy Plan (“Flounder”); as well as (2) the handy list of legacy securities terminology (no more toxemia); and (3) the requisite application forms to join in the scavenger hunt fun (Press Hard-Duplicates; Do Not Sign in Red Ink; Use Swingline Staplers Only).

I’ve read it all and I’ve reached the following conclusion: This is just a big-ticket, high-stakes version of one of those auctions your neighbor goes to at the local self-storage company when they try to unload abandoned stuff. Only this time he’s going with great big flippin’ wads of your cash in his pockets. If he’s lucky, he gets a digital television or a stereo system with undersized speakers or a stash of vintage baseball cards. If he’s not lucky, you get stuck with some disgusting stained mattresses and a crumpled old Valtrex prescription for Paris Hilton.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Taking all the fun out of it

Just don’t get it, do they? From the Neal Boortz column, “Tea Parties -- Give Me a Break.”

A funny thing happened while the CIA was busy elsewhere…

Via Bad Attitudes comes this bit of delicious snark: Reagan’s Dream of a Leftist El Salvador Finally Realized.

Reading this WaPo editorial puts it all in context.

Just think, in 2030, when the Iraqis finally vote in the leaders of their choice, the Washington Post will editorialize thusly: The election result could be the consolidation of the political system the United States was aiming for after it intervened in Iraq in 2003.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sex and other stuff

Tucker Carlson bitches that Jon Stewart refuses to play by the gentleman’s rules of cable news theatrics. The bastard. (I mean Carlson.)*

Teen Sex and Insanity sounds pretty damn good, but resident Town Hall anhedonia sufferer Rebecca Hagelin prunes up. Plus she’s outraged that liberal slut Anna Quindlen wants kids to know that sex is pleasurable. Come on Becky -- we’ve robbed these kids of just about everything but their genitals. Let them play on.

In case you’ve been too busy to notice, “it's over — we're officially, royally fucked.” Matt Taibbi provides a straightforward explanation and chronology of the financial crisis. I don’t know why, but American writers have grown excellent at forensic reconstructions over the past decade.

Finally, Michael over at Should’ve Asked Me asks a critically important question about men and lipstick.

*h/t to WTF!?! Is It Now.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Now just read this as Inspector Clousseau

Trust me, it doesn’t really matter what the hell Erik Erickson is actually talking about. In fact, it’s funnier if you don’t.

The Red State blogger is all excited because he thinks he’s convicted David Shuster of being either a journalist or an activist or an invitee to Andrea Mitchell’s Spring Cotillion.

This is Erickson responding to an email from Shuster -- OMFG! a real, live TV-type person wrote to a lowly blogger -- who basically says WTF dude? Just read it out loud, doing your best Peter Sellers-as-Inspector Clousseau impersonation.
I’ve got credible people who have knowledge of the leest telling me you are on the leest. I believe you are on the leest. Put another way, I believe you have more incentive to lie about not being on the leest than those telling me you are on the leest have incentive to lie to me.

And if they have gotten confused as to which leest you are on, then you aren’t on the journalist leest, but the activist leest.
Oh, but there’s more.
Ezra Klein emails to say Shuster is not on the leest and the person telling me Shuster is on the leest is lying to me. How about we get a leest of who all is on the leest and we’ll know for sure who is leesting lying?
Tbogg does that Tbogg thing he does so well with this.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Beckheads of the world, unite!

Libby Spencer chronicles recent Beckhead activities over at The Impolitic. Apparently, thousands hundreds dozens of concerned citizens around the country joined together to intimidate the rest of us by pointing out they surround us, or something. In reality they only surrounded large-screen televisions featuring Glenn Beck’s performance art. They huddled together in places such as the Rex Theater in Wyoming, the Holiday Inn of Asheville, a Bassett Furniture showroom somewhere in Colorado, and the Magic Mighty Mushroom in Broward County (photo below).

Meanwhile Ace of Spades and his poker studs try really hard to imagine what a liberal wedding and reception must be like, in this case the upcoming nuptials of Jessica Valenti.

This is what commenter CTD envisions for the Valenti wedding reception.
No kegs. No open bar. No dancing.

Instead, the wedding party will perform the Vagina Monologues until all the victims guests have bled out through their ears.
Well I couldn’t let that go unanswered, could I?
CTD: And I've heard the groomsmen will be performing Penis Puppetry. Come to think of it, I'm going to try to wrangle an invitation to the reception.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The lone virgin at the orgy

So Jim “Mad Money” Cramer got it good on The Daily Show. While Jon Stewart took pains to explain he was not singling out Cramer but was criticizing CNBC and pretty much the entire business press for their total cluelessness and/or epic malfeasance, Cramer kept insisting that he, former hedge fund manager extraordinaire, had been lied to by big-name CEOs, former colleagues, and assorted others as he did “research” for his shows.

It seems Jim Cramer was the lone virgin at the orgy.

But sweet Jesus there’s always a tape. This one, a two-year-old interview on Wall Street Confidential, features Cramer candidly discussing his use of “fomenting” and other forms of market manipulation back in his hedge fund days.

So much for the virginity defense.

I don’t hold out much hope for the emergence of robust mainstream reporting on business and economics in the United Corporations of America. People will just have to look elsewhere. Here is an excellent place to start. I also highly recommend their Fianancial Crisis for Beginners.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Okay now nobody move

I'm still updating and revising the blogroll. Please, people, stop switching back and forth between Blogger and Wordpress. Stay put!

Tontine Barbie

This was definitely one of those times when you had to see the print edition rather than the online version of a publication to fully appreciate the editors’ stupidity. On Monday, the NYT devoted pretty much half of its Op/Ed page to a column about the Barbie doll. What really ticked me off was that the editors didn’t make the huge illustration that accompanied the piece suitable for coloring and eventual display on a refrigerator door.

That and the fact that some of the precious remaining Op/Ed space was used for a column promoting healthcare tontines for those pesky 19 to 29 year olds who consider themselves invincible and refuse to pay for health insurance.

The authors, two lawyers, dismiss universal healthcare out of hand, saying that it’s just too costly. So there. Besides, what America really needs is yet another hybrid financial/insurance product that’s extremely complicated (how complicated? just read the column) and with the potential to accumulate tons of cash just waiting to be prudently reinvested in rock-solid, AAA-grade, collateralized debt obligations and other never-fail securitized instruments.

Why aren’t tontines available today? Because they’re illegal. Why are they illegal? Well....
Sadly, this kind of insurance isn’t on the table, due to the failure of tontine life insurance in the late 19th century (“tontine,” by the way, derives from the name of the Italian banker who invented the system). Tontine life insurance paid a deferred dividend to policy holders who survived and faithfully paid their insurance premiums for a defined period, usually 20 years.

Things went sour when tontine life insurance companies became economic titans, buying and selling stocks on a scale that would make Warren Buffett blush. Unfortunately their leaders did not show Mr. Buffett’s personal restraint. Their extravagance and influence-peddling prompted a political backlash that led to laws in 1906 reorganizing the insurance business and regulating its management of surplus funds.
Nonetheless, the authors remain enthusiastic. Such things could never happen today.
The life insurance tontine experience seem to make health insurers leery of trying such an experiment again. But they shouldn’t be. Health insurance tontines would not produce the same level of corrupting fortunes.
Maybe the Times should have skipped the column on healthcare tontines and expanded the Barbie illustration to include Ken and Skipper too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


The good news is I've finally installed that nifty feed reading sidebar widget. The bad news is I've lost Haloscan. The good news is I finally got rid of those annoying Read more! links. The bad news is ... well you get the idea. I'm still updating my blogroll list, so look for some new and some old friends to be appearing in the sidebar. Okay, I think I've pushed my techno-luck for one night....

Monday, March 09, 2009

In which I tried not to look aghast

The snow from the last nor’easter melted over the weekend, and the neighbors held the usual post-storm swap meet, bringing forth the various items that got blown around and buried in random yards. (Sadly, our window shutter has not been found, and at this point I’m assuming it’s floating around in the Atlantic). As I was redistributing various soccer balls, basketballs, and street hockey goal nets, I had a chance to chat with the three-doors-over neighbor. And what a tale he had to tell.

Last I heard in December, he and his wife had just bought a house on Florida’s Gulf Coast, a vacation home and eventually the place where they’ll retire to. I was a little surprised that someone in our exceedingly modest development was buying a second home in this economy but, hey, I didn‘t know anything about these people’s personal finances. They’re fifty-ish and their kids are grown and married. For all I knew, they own everything free and clear and they’ve got great big flippin’ wads of cash in CDs and T-bills and secure retirement funds.

Except they don’t.

By mid-January, the husband lost his job when the car dealership he worked for went out of business. (Apparently nobody saw that coming.) His 401k is, like everyone else’s, a 201k. The couple now has two mortgages to pay plus two car loans. The wife works only part-time, and the couple is now without health insurance. They’ve decided to put the Jersey house up for sale. Good luck with that. There are homes in our development that have been on the market for over a year.

Whatever were they thinking?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Two to nothing esé! Two to nothing!

No no! If you cheat and fail, you’re a cheater. If you cheat and succeed, you’re savvy.

Not a great sign when a South Park episode triggers an epiphany, but I take’em where I find’em.

As the perfect antidote to all the endless yapping and snarling about the economy, bailouts, and stimulus packages, I switched channels and caught a semi-recent South Park episode. It features a cheeky send-up of Stand and Deliver with Cartman doing a superb Edward James Olmos.

Through a series of plot twists, Cartman ends up as an inspirational special student-teacher at Jim Davis High School, a gritty inner-city school where all the students are getting left behind. As Mr. Eric Cartmenez, he sets out to teach the no-hopers the power of cheating, as exemplified in this 2008 episode by Bill Belichick; however, as you’ll see, the concept is flexible enough to embrace the current inhabitants of the entire Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate (FIRE) sector of the US economy.


[Jim Davis High school class room. Cartman is starting to do his job.]

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) Okay, everyone take a syllabus, and pass it to the amigo behind you.

Student 2: Hey man, what the hell do you think you’re doing?

Student 3: Yeah!

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) Mr. Cartmenez is here to make sure you all get into college.

Student 4: Getting into college? Man, we ain’t get into no college! Fuck you! [the other students agree with this]

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) *sigh* How do I reach these kids? The reason that you think you can’t get into college, is because you haven’t been taught... How to cheat. Properly! How do you think white people always get ahead? Because we cheat all the time – I mean because they cheat all the time. [brings out a picture of Bill Belichick] This is Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots. He’s won three Super Bowls. How? He cheated. He even got caught cheating, and nobody cared. Bill Belichick proved that in America it’s okay to cheat, as long as you cheat your way to the top!

Student 5: Hey, I don’t wanna be called a cheater!

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) No no! If you cheat and fail, you’re a cheater. If you cheat and succeed, you’re savvy.

Student 6: This is bullshit! I don’t wanna waste my time learning to cheat!

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) Go ahead, the door’s right here, bye bye have fun, we will miss you. [waves to the kid while looking the other way. The kid leaves.] *sigh* How do I reach these kids?


[Jim Davis High school, day. Student 6 (the kid who ran out of the class before) is shooting baskets. He misses, and the ball rolls away, ending up at Cartman’s feet.]

Cartman: [picking up the ball] (in a Mexican accent)Nice form, compadre!

Student 6: Hey I walked out of your class, teacher! Look I don’t wanna argue with you about the merits of cheating!

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) Who wants to argue on a nice day like this? How about a little pickup game? [whistles to a kid sitting by the scoreboard reading a book] Hey Petano! Can you keep score for us?

Petano: Sure thing, Mr. C! [he gets up]

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) Okay, you start on defence amigo! [tosses the ball to Student 6. Cartman bounces the ball for a few seconds, then gets past Student 6... by smacking him on the leg with a teacher’s pointer. He sinks the basket, and Petano changes the score to 1 - 0] Oh, that’s one to nothing amigo!

Student 6: You cheated!

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) What’s the score, Jefe? Okay lets go, your turn! [Student 6 tries to get past Cartman, but again gets whacked by the teacher’s pointer. Cartman steals the ball and sinks another basket. Petano changes the score to 2 - 0] That’s two to nothing, amigo!

Student 6: Fuck you man! You can’t do that!

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) Look at the scoreboard, amigo. No matter how many times you say I cheated, the scoreboard says two, nothing. [tosses the ball to Student 6]

Student 6: I know what you’re trying to say. But I still don’t agree with it. [throws the ball away and limps away]

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) (yells after Student 6) Two to nothing esé! Two to nothing! *sigh* How do I reach these kids?


[Jim Davis High school, day. Cartman has managed to get the kids to pay attention, and they are writing down the things he is telling them.]

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) Today we will discuss one of the fundamental ways to cheat: getting material ahead of time. When Bill Belichick cheated for the Patriots, what did he do? He videotaped the opposing team’s defence. Think of the defence as your test. When taking a test you must also videotape, the defence. Learn what’s on the test before they give it to you. And that way you can – [stops. Student 6 has quietly entered the classroom.]

Student 6: [looks around guiltily.] I thought that... Well maybe I can give cheating a try.

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) Have a seat amigo. Good to have you back. [Student 6 sits down] Alright. When Bill Belichick got caught with his, camera, he did not panic; he simply said what every good white cheater says when caught: “I misinterpreted the rules”. It’s what you must also say when caught cheating: “I misinterpreted the rules”. Say it with me.

Cartman and the class: “I misinterpreted the rules”

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) Good! Again!

Cartman and the class: (with more enthusiasm) “I misinterpreted the rules”

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) Again!

Cartman and the class: (Student 6 joins in) “I misinterpreted the rules”

Cartman: (in a Mexican accent) Now you sound like white people!

The class: (shouting excitedly) “I misinterpreted the rules!”


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Gone medieval

Waiting out the snow and wind bombings of the last nor’easter, I was reading Mysteries of the Middle Ages when I came across a wonderful passage that with only minor tweaking yields an extraordinary description of today’s conservative Republicans.
In all the time conservative Republicans were in power, nothing of real consequence had been created or improved while much of real consequence had been destroyed or weakened…. Shackled in ideology, disciplined by fear, and sheathed in arrogant certitude, conservative Republicans trudged into the 21st century in the clumsy, hunched, pigeon-toed gait of mindless obsequients, their vacant faces turned blindly toward the future they thought they knew -- gullible, pitiful innocents who were about to be swept up in the most powerful, incomprehensible, irresistible vortex: the election of a black Democrat president willing to give the majority what it wants.