The Bailout, Part 3

31 10 2008

The name of the Interim Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability is Neel Kashkari.

How Very Dickensian.


The Bailout, Part 2

30 10 2008

That was a huge success.  Who would have thought investment banks would have used that money to provide bonuses to folks who failed?  What a precendent.

Bonus:  Now everyone can say, in parentheticals, (in these uncertain economic times), and not know what they mean.

Double Bonus:  Alan Greenspan:

“In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology was not right?” Waxman asked. “Yes, I found a flaw,” Greenspan said in response to grilling from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “That is precisely the reason I was shocked because I’d been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief,” said Greenspan, who stepped down from the Fed in 2006.

Bound to found in Dickipedia any moment now.

The Bailout, Part 1

22 09 2008

So says Paul Krugman, of the New York Times (and if we must read any columnist from the NYT about economics, politics and the crossroads of power, please make it Paul Krugman (or Bob Herbert and some days but not always Frank Rich) and not Dowd, Brooks, Kristof or Kristol):

But I’d urge Congress to pause for a minute, take a deep breath, and try to seriously rework the structure of the plan, making it a plan that addresses the real problem. Don’t let yourself be railroaded — if this plan goes through in anything like its current form, we’ll all be very sorry in the not-too-distant future.

In my own little world, I think this is the first step toward universal health care and preschool for all and fully funded special education.  If we can blithely add what is now considered One Point Five Trillion Dollars to the “debt ceiling” for the top One Percent of the Population, we can seriously add the rest for the rest of us.

And then what?  Those liberal programs like Debt Forgiveness in Third World Countries?  Alternative Energy Subsidies?  CapiSocialism?

When you tear the fabric of the universe this severely, the rules change. Let’s hope the Gang of 535 does it sort-of-right for a change.

In the meantime, I’m gonna go play Wii…

I am Joe’s Gunther

15 09 2008

Archer Mayor is a author who lives in Newfane, VT.  While he publishes travel articles for a number of magazines, he is best known for his series of police procedurals, or perhaps mysteries, based on the character of Joe Gunther.  His 19th novel in the series, The Catch, will be published late this month.  Joe is a stalwart, and, to use Archer’s adjective, is quite stolid.  The series has been published since 1988, and many of us here in Vermont have at least five of his books on our shelves.

A couple of years ago, the first twelve novels in the series fell out of print.  Archer’s relationship with his publisher suffered, for every author knows the butter on his bread is his backlist, and he was able to purchase back the rights to his books.  Since then, Archer formed a partnership with Elaine Sopchak to form AMPress, and they have republished these twelve books themselves.  To make it better, they have thought “Local First” by finding designers and printers locally, and they are distributing them to the many independent bookstores in Vermont and beyond.

Earlier this past winter, I received a call from Jody Petersen, who I met while doing commentaries for WNCS in Montpelier.  Jody has her own recording studio and business now and was looking for a reader.  I’d not worked with her before, but Liz did, and I thought it would be cool.  She was auditioning a few locals for a project and wanted us to read a chapter for the audition.  “Who’s”, I asked.  “Archer Mayor’s”, she said.

Archer Mayor!  I’d been buying his books as Christmas reading for Liz for years and years.  I’d read a couple, but not nearly the number Liz had, and certainly not the first.  But we had it on our shelves, and like a good little actor I studied up, rereading the first chapter a few times and then reading on to see what happened, so I could fake my way through a conversation about the story if need be.  What was cool about the project was that of all his books, only one or two had been recorded, and those by the BBC.  No one had ever recorded the first twelve, and so Archer and Elaine thought it was time to reintroduce Joe Gunther via audiobook, especially since they got to control the whole project.  Sweet.  So I made it to the studio in mid-February and a couple of weeks later, I got the call.  I actually got an email from Liz who got an email from Elaine who didn’t know we were a couple until after they had made their choice.  “They thought you nailed Joe.”  And so I did.  Jody and I spent the early spring recording “Open Season”, the first Gunther mystery.  I finished in late May.

The thing about Joe, in this book, is that the reader is privy to more personal information about him than in most of the others.  Mayor structured Joe to be the conduit, and a fairly “boring” one at that.  He is frequently wrong, dangerously so, and humanly patient, sometimes to a fault.  Reading him (the story is in the first person) raised some great issues about how to read a first person book, because there were so many other characters as well.  Should they be read in Joe’s voice, the character’s voice, or what have you?  We opted for the characters, and most of them were a blast to do.  One or two were VERY hard to pinpoint and get consistently, but in the end, I think Jody and I squeezed them out well.

So now the book is nearly available. This product, too, was a local first production, from the writer to the producer to the voice to the studio to the packager and designer.  At last, the first chapter is available on Archer’s site, and the full book will be available soon.  We have some certain goals to meet to see if there is another to do — will it be received well?  will it sell enough copies? — so I don’t know if I’ll stay the voice of Joe Gunther. It would be outrageously fun if I did…

We’ll know soon.

The Campaign

15 09 2008

It is a strange thing, this salesmanship.  During a primary, you are knocking on doors of friendlies, people who have a known history of voting, voting Democratic, and probably voting for someone like you.  This is like having a sales route for Coke given to you and all you have to do to begin is meet everyone because the Coke will sell itself.  This proved successful, and I, as the new Coke, found my way on to the fall ballot.  The Republicans (ye whose brand is closer to Shop Rite cola) failed to run a candidate under their own banner, but known Republican operatives worked to get an “independent” on the ballot, who is none other than the person who ran against us in the primary.  Oh well.  Competition is good in a democracy, no doubt, but it would have been nice to run as if it were not a democracy.

Oh. Right.

And so we will go on.  I’ll wait a couple of more months to get myself measured up for that new suit jacket at Men’s Wearhouse and to pick out the legislative Merrells.  I was hoping that our signs wouldn’t be contributing too much to the wasteland of politica, but we’ll be out there, every quarter mile or so, whether we need to be or not.  I’ll be out there kissing babies with the rest of them.

Why Joe Posnanski Rules the World

1 08 2008

Joe Posnanski is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star.  He’s a bit younger than I am, but his cultural references are about the same and he really likes Bruce Springsteen.  I came upon his blog sometime late last year.  His link is on my RSS feed, so I get to check in with his writing every day.

Joe rules the world because of posts like this:

Pixifood (PIKZ-ee-food), noun: Any food substance that is highly pleasant to the taste as a child and tastes shockingly unpleasant once you become an adult.

Baseball Card Gum
As a child it tastes like: Bubble blowing magic.
As an adult it tastes like: Sugared sandpaper.
Tidbits: A few years ago, Topps released a retro set of baseball cards — I believe it was based on the 1952 set. Anyway, it included the gum. I was SO excited. I immediately went to eBay and spent WAY too much on a box of those cards. I got it, and I chewed the gum and … I expect to get the feeling in my jaw back no later than September 2013. More to the point, the inside of my mouth got so raw, you could strike a match against it. What do they put in that stuff? Roofing shingles? I think part of the problem is that they started putting the gum in little plastic packets, presumably so they would not get stale and ruin the back of baseball cards like the old days. But maybe that’s how they lost the magic. As a kid it was great because, really, as far as taste went, you never know where the gum ended and the baseball cards began.

You never know where the gum ended and the baseball cards began.  Indeed. There is more, of course, all of it dead on.

Joe also works with the Pozterisk, which is a floating footnote that usually is a tangent that is as entertaining as the post.  I have used and will use it because it is, for me and my writing, natural.  Joe just showed me how it can be done.

The thing about Joe, though, is that he is a working columnist, former journalist, is researching a book about the Damned Big Red Machine of 1975 and STILL writes thousand word posts five times a week.  The man just has to write.  I’m in awe.  To be so prolific and so good.  Just like Stephen King, except I read this.

The Whales

28 07 2008


We took our week’s vacation this summer on Cape Cod. This is the second year in a row at a house in Eastham, and while we enjoy it for the proximity to the bay shore and its low tide, we were determined to get out of the house and take advantage of the better parts of the Cape.  Too much of it is categorized in the driving or shopping mode.  So we hung our bikes on the back of the Volvo and made a list of the things we’ve wanted to do for years and haven’t — either because of weather, time or age of the kids.  We used the bicycles on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which is lengthy and straight and goes from Wellfleet to somewhere past Dennis, and in the Provincelands, which is lengthy and hilly and possesses some awesome views.

We also went to a Cape Cod League baseball game in Orleans.  The Cape league is a testing ground for elite college players because they have to use wood bats (as well as avoid the usual distractions that virile young men get distracted by in the summer at beach communities).  Their distress in this switch from aluminum was visible on the number of long flies that, to them, should have sailed far into the parking lot but merely found their way lazily into the gloves of the outfielders.  The batters would grimace and toss the great equalizer aside and run out the hit until the play was over.  Their jobs during the summer are finding the extra 10 or 15 yards in wood that they had in tin, as well as the tinier sweet spot.  Those that do get drafted higher.  Those that don’t play minor league ball.

The Wellfleet Drive-In was another to do, which we did.  Wall-E (awesome) and Prince Caspian (ten thumbs down).

The highlight of the Cape Cod things to do — “the ONLY worthwhile thing to do on all of Cape Cod” — was a three-hour tour on the Portugese Princess out of Provincetown to do a whale watch.  As it happens, you are told from the start that you may, in fact, not see any whales.  You may see dolphins.  You may see humpbacks, or minkes, or fins.  The company that owns the boats coordinates their rides with the Center for Coastal Studies, which endeavors to educate the passengers onboard, a pleasant change from merely entertaining them.  You learn about the rarity of all whales, their endangered status, and you make plans to watch the Planet Earth episode on them again when you get home.  But mostly, as you set out from Provincetown Harbor for the 45 minute ride it takes to get to Stellwagen Bank, an offshore sanctuary where the whales and dolphins are known to stay during their time up north, you wonder if you or your kid will get seasick, which will ruin the afternoon for most anyone within a few feet of the ill one.

Our guys didn’t.  The dramamine was the drowsy kind but no one lost it.

Upon arrival to the southern end of the bank, however, all hell broke loose, in a good way.  “In non-scientific terms, Rubber Ahead!” called out the biologist as we approached what turned out to be a feeding frenzy by over 30 humpback whales, which included several calves.  I hadn’t been on a whale watch in 20 years, and I recall it as satisfactory — dolphins and whales in decent numbers — and this far surpassed it.  Rubber indeed.

We arrived at the bank at about 1:15 and there were humpback whales on every side of the boat exhibiting every kind of behavior known to humans (not mating — we’ve never seen them mate.  We don’t even know where the guys go in the winter).  Finslapping to feed, the result of which is pictured above, was most visible, perhaps because it was mammalian lunchtime  (I had a hot dog). The whale surfaces and then slaps its tail into the water, creating an aerated chaos that stuns the small fish.  It then circles down underneath, slowly emerges with its mouth open and filters the water through its baleen.  The gulls scavenge the excess, the whales submerge and spin away, occasionally leaving a trail of excrement.  In the picture above, one whale slapped but two emerged.  We never tired of seeing this.  Nor of the mothers and calves, nor of the excitement of the biologist onboard, nor of the breeching exhibited by some of the younger whales, and nor did we notice the absence of dolphins or minke whales or the minor guest star appearance by a couple of fin whales in the distance.  According to the biologist, we witnessed nearly forty different whales, about 28 of whom they could identify.  The kids — all of us really — were spoiled by the sheer number of sightings and by the extent of the observed behavior.  They weren’t performing for us, though it could be easy to accuse them of that because, you know, they know how much we paid and they didn’t want to disappoint us, but their activity sure made it seem so.  Earlier trips that day saw more dolphins than whales, later trips saw minkes and fins as well as humpbacks, and what was unique for our trip was the large number of whales feeding at the same time.

Coupled with a Planet Earth or Blue Planet marathon, you realize how much we don’t know about life and existence on the planet, and it is the mystery that drives people crazy.  “What do we care if we drop these rustbable drums of nuclear waste in the sea — who are we hurting?”  Another vast universe.  Damn that Al Gore for making us environmental again.

I almost don’t want to go on another whalewatch anytime soon, so as not to ruin the memory of this one.  Maybe we’ll let the kids get older and more cynical (I mean, mature), and try again, hoping to let them find the awe we found this time, only with a different world view.