Friday, October 31, 2008

Go Parker Griffith!

It's tough enough to be an informed voter without having candidates with similar names running for the same position. In this case its Parker Griffith(D) vs. Wayne Parker(R) in Alabama's 5th Congressional district. To compound the confusion the Democrat is using red signs and the Republican is using blue signs. Come on, guys, help us out a little here! We want to vote for the right guy -- the one who has the strong family values and the fiscal restraint and looks like he can keep the good jobs coming into the Tennessee Valley just like our retiring Congressman, Bud Cramer (D) did for years. We want Parker Griffith. He's a medical doctor, an M.D., so he's clearly smart enough for the job. He's got experience in elected office as a state Senator and he has the endorsement of our Blue Dog Conservative, Representative Bud Cramer. Maybe a little mnemonic device would help: "Go with Griffith"? "Griffith is Great"? "Gee, wouldn't going with Griffith be great, y'know, the one with the 'G' in his name"?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Harmon House Painted on Its Own Slate

There's a house I like to stay at, up the Hudson from New York, more for the denizens than the architecture, but both are grand and storied. I was pleased this week to deliver the fruit of last summer's (2007) family trip to there and other haunts in the vicinity of "The Big Apple" (I wrote about the trip here).

On that trip I collected a few slate tiles that had come off the roof as the result of a violent thunder storm a couple weeks earlier. I also collected a few photos. I gave these to my mother, who can paint, and asked if she could render a view of the house onto one of the slates. She did so and I've now gifted the results to the current owners of the Harmon House as a thank you for their hospitality. They've posted a terrific video of the painting on youtube; you can also see a scan of the painting here; and a corresponding photo here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Paul Newman Passing

I always liked Paul Newman films. We got to watch "Cool Hand Luke" in school in seventh grade after reading it as a play. He was indeed cool. Back in the seventies as a kid I rarely went to first run films, but we saw "The Sting" in the theatre. I didn't know what "running a con" meant and with the goofy clothes I thought I was in for some kind of mean Mary Poppins film. It was great.

I've seen "The Color of Money" recently and even though Tom Cruise grates on me, Newman is outstanding. I need to go back and re-watch "The Hustler". He aged well and was superb in "Nobody's Fool". If you see it again pay attention to when the snow blower is, and isn't, in the back of his pickup. I enjoy that continuity issue because I spotted it before being told about it. (I guess you can't do that now; sorry.)

I've also found buying his "Newman's Own" products satisfying; they're generally good quality and good tasting and you're doing good. But I also have felt a special connection to Paul Newman since the mid 80's because I had the chance to hang out with his daughter Melissa a couple of times. A friend met her when she was taking an art class, painting, at Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York one summer. I met her briefly then, but later in New York City she went out with us one evening when I was visiting that friend. He lived on Columbus Avenue, above 106th street in Spanish Harlem, in a 5th floor walk up apartment. That place was a tiny 3 bedroom for $1600 a month twenty some years ago. I guess if you wanted to be in Manhattan it was swell, with the 24 hour crap game on the curb next to a steel post with a few almost bald car tires and a sign that simply read "Flats Fixed". We walked a block and half to a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant and had a great evening hanging and chatting, basking in our youth. I'm sure Melissa Newman remembers me less than I remember her. She had long wavy hair and was friendly and unpretentious. And now I'm sorry for her loss; but still grateful for the connection.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Bailout Bill Bunk

Why should we support the $700 Billion bailout of Wall Street? While I understand that their failures can impact the economy as a whole so it is a bit of a scorched earth strategy to let them go down. They did their jobs poorly; they ran their businesses badly and the result of that is that they failed. And the people who caused the failures should not be rewarded and they should have a lot of trouble finding another job in that field. I’m reminded of President Ronald Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers – they paid for it with their jobs, and we all suffered a bit. How is this so different? Wall Street screwed up. Throw them out and bring in fresh financiers.

I don’t pretend to understand all the vehicles of high finance. But I shouldn’t need to. I’ve earned two graduate degrees, in Mathematics and in Management; if I can’t make some sense out of this in short order then it is intrinsically too complex. I haven’t heard anyone say that it is not too complex. That brings me to a second point: Why do we think that the bailout will either, a) be enough; or b) really be needed in the long run, i.e. we may either need to pour in more money to actually prop these institutions up; or there may be flat failures of some institutions but won’t others just become stronger – we’ve still got the same world, with the same natural and human resources. The financing is just an organizational framework imposed on those resources – a system of catalysts and rewards. Other institutions will fill those voids; people will work, technology will evolve – with or without a bailout.

So there’s one more point to make: we need to consider the source of the panic. This is coming from an administration that has lied to us, deceived us and denied us access to information on a consistent basis over the past eight years. They’ve used the excuse of “security” to pretty much do as they saw fit, from hiding their dealings with big oil companies to lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to not disclosing discussions in the White House of torture as an option. Now it’s "financial security" and it firstly effects their ex-colleagues in the financial world and they want to hand them a lot of money and see if it helps. I’m sorry; they’ve cried wolf too many times. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Not this time, not now.

My own Congressman Bud Cramer makes a compassionate argument in his September 29 letter: "Without action, the store owner, the farmer, the homeowner and the senior have their hands tied and could lose their store, farm, home or pension." I haven't found the perfect analogy, let's try this one: paying "protection money" to a gang of thugs so that a store can stay open in a tough neighborhood and serve the locals isn't a proper solution -- clean out the thugs first and reestablish the store when you can.

David Corn posted the memo from Congressman Brad Sherman in his blog. Sherman is squarely against imposing this burden on the taxpayers: "...the Bailout Bill allows million-dollar-a-month salaries to executives of bailed-out firms, and it allows hundreds of billions to be used to buy toxic assets currently held by foreign investors."

That was a couple days ago. Now the Senate has loaded up the bailout with candy for everybody. If there was one good thing about the Paulson proposal it was that it was clean. Now we've got tax breaks and disaster relief melded into a banking bailout bill. No wonder we don't understand why things break. We let this crisis ferment for years and now we shouldn't panic to fix it with a barage of money and perks in just two weeks. No big bail out, just the FDIC insurance that was already in place -- oh, and let's make everybody play by the rules in the stock market, no naked short selling, for one; there's already a rule against that, the SEC just doesn't enforce it.

But no bailout, it's bunk.