Saturday, March 28, 2009

Just Say Die

OK, I'll finally make a comment on Pope Benedict XVI's irresponsible claim while in Cameroon that condoms don't stop HIV, so people shouldn't bother with them. The church has long taught and argued against artificial contraception. But to take it a step further and say that condoms "increase the problem" borders on the criminal. I hadn't bothered with this nonsense before now because that's what it is, nonsense. But I will take my hat off to the creative minds behind an initiative to flood to Vatican with condoms. Ok, so they don't have much use for them there, but I love the spirit behind it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

War Protest

An anti-war protest is scheduled for DC today. We are, after all, six years into the war in Iraq. The ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) is the main organizer for today's march, and has called for other rallies in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Miami. For the first time since the war began, I do not know anyone who is marching today. I'm sure hundreds of people will be downtown for this today, but I doubt thousands. I could be wrong. It is not because the war has suddenly become popular or justified, but . . . just guessing. There are those (including myself) who believe the Obama administration has got a good handle on this and will get our folks out in as best a way possible for us & Iraq. Others no doubt have many other problems on their plate now thanks to the economy.

In the meantime, let us hope and pray with all our hearts for the safety of our troops in Iraq, and for the people of that poor country.

Bonus Pendulum

Hear that? It's the sound of the bonus pendulum swinging back. Well not all the way back, more of a slight, almost imperceptible twitch. Now that Americans are in full froth storm the castle mode, a few voices are urging acceptance. "Sure it stings," they say, "but it's the price we have to pay to fix this." And then there is always the side show in the US Congress as member after member runs for as many cameras as he or she can find to remind their constituents that "I didn't vote for the bail out. Or if I did, it was only after voting against it once. Or if I voted for it twice, I complained loudly about the bonus packages that were in it. Or if you happen to have footage of me complaining that messing with people's bonuses was un-American, well that was just an error and it's the other party's fault in the long run."

After all, isn't the game of proclaiming innocence and ignorace, followed by point the finger, always more fun than actually trying to work together to find solutions. Which brings us back to the pendulum. Should we bother being angry about the bonuses? Or just smile, take it and move on in the hopes that all will be well in the end?

I'd actually like to vote for smile, take it and move on. (OK, perhaps forget the smile part.) But that requires us to put our trust in the systems and people who are part of the problem to begin with. The real culprits have taken their bonus money and moved on months ago we're told. And the ones who are left are just trying their best to straighten this all out.

I'll even give them that the folks left are trying to straighten it out. But let's be honest. They don't really seem to know what they're doing. Not how they got into the mess, and certianly not how to get out of it. So if they leave and new people have to come in to do the work - are we losing anything? I doubt it. So in the end, I'm ok with keeping my pitchfork & using it to take back some of that bonus money. Because with it or without it to reward or keep folks in AIG & all the other financial towers of doom, there don't seem to be many people around who know how to fix the problems.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Go, Gail, Go Girl!

I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I contemplate the sorry saga of AIG. But Gail Collins' take on things like this always cracks me up, as it did just now when I visited tomorrow's New York Times. Here's the concluding paragraph of her column from today, March l9:

"Let’s complain about Barack Obama. Why doesn’t he sound angrier? Doesn’t he understand that his job right now is to be the Great Venter?

Sure he keeps saying he’s mad. But you can tell that he secretly thinks it’s crazy to obsess about $165 million in bonuses in a company that’s still got $1.6 trillion in toxic assets to unravel. “I don’t want to quell that anger. I want to channel our anger in a constructive way,” he said on Wednesday. Everybody knows constructively channeled anger doesn’t really count. It’s like diet pizza.

If John McCain were president, you can bet that we’d be getting outrage 24-7. McCain would be so angry that we’d be scared that he’d have a coronary or invade a new country. The New York Post would be running “Calm Down, Mr. President” headlines.

Except, of course, the whole reason we elected Barack Obama was because when the economy started melting down, Obama seemed sane and calm while McCain appeared to be a loopy visitor from the Planet of the Overwrought.

I hate it when we make irrational, contradictory demands of our president. But, it seems as if that’s what he’s there for."

Did he REALLY say that?!

I was underwhelmed at the prospect of former President George W. Bush's giving his first post-Presidency speech in Calgary, Alberta yesterday. Indeed, whenever our former President has spoken, in or out of office, it all sounds to me like the voice of the teacher in the Peanuts cartoon, i.e. blahblahblahblahblahblahblahblah into infinity. But this line he delivered afterward about his upcoming memoir--this is assuming he has a publisher--suddenly sat me up straight in my seat:

"I’m going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written at least there’s an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened,” Bush said."

Since Bush has a tendency to stumble around in his public utterances, you want to assume he meant "authoritative" rather than "authoritarian," because he was all about freedom--you know, God's gift to all peoples, etc. etc., ad nauseum.

But it certainly occurred to me that this might be the best example in world history of a Freudian I wrong?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Public Catharsis

Many are calling for some sort of public catharsis in the economic community. When even a US senator suggests resignations and suicide to the Wall Street navel-gazing bulls that set off this nonsense, you've got some serious public anger out there. I'm more a fan of public recognition of these men & women. Show trials have their appeal, and offer a pretty good public catharsis. Just like the sex offender registry, I'm in favor of an economic idiot registry. Let's say you were one of the crew who abandoned common sense in a chance for more & faster money. Let's get your name onto a registry so that when you apply for a new job after your company tanks, or your last bonus is somehow pitifully reduced to less than $1 million, your new employer will have the opportunity to check the public data base & see what your contribution has been.

The Twisted Tale of AIG

It's hard to find a voice arguing in favor of much to do with AIG these days. Even the most ardent supporters are hemming and hawing over the bonus scandal. The most forceful argument I've heard was some guy on talk radio whose argument was that we don't know who the bonuses are going to so can't say if they deserved those bonuses or not.

Well, it seems we actually do know who is getting bonus money at AIG. According to NY's Attorney General Andrew Cuomo noted that AIG had retention bonuses of $1 million or more (yes, that is $1 million per person) to 73 in the AIG Financial Products subsidiary. You remember that group right, these are the guys who almost wrecked the company. If that's not worth a $1 million retention bonus, what is.

And you've heard this argument, right - the mess these folks got the company into is so complicated that they are the only ones who can get us out of it. So it's worth a few dozen $1 million bonuses to hold onto those people.

Then again, of that group, 11 have taken their bonuses and cut & run. I look forward to hearing what is going on with these 11 ex AIGers. I'm sure they've taken their million dollar bonuses and left the company so they could do good in the world. We'll hear of them helping to fund fights against disease, or building houses for the poor. Wouldn't that be a nice world.

Most likely we won't even get a postcard from their new retreat on their private south pacific island.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Just for the record, I think it's an outrage that the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoe at former President Bush got a jail sentence. I would have given him a medal for defending his country!

Thoughts on the German school shootings

When talk turns to secondary and college education in the US, at least in my circles, it's pretty negative. You hear, for example, that there are no practical standards for high school students to meet, that anyone can pursue higher education, with the result that too many people go to college and waste their money and time there partying, that the college-as-business ethos has turned undergraduate education into a farce, etc. etc.

On the other hand, there is a pronounced tendency to lionize the European educational system. There, DOGS or DOPS(disgruntled old grads or disgruntled old profs)say, every student has to meet high standards in rigorous testing, the college -bound are identified and segregated early, so that they can prepare for the rigors of university, while those less academically gifted automatically head off for Mercedez-Benz to become highly paid servicepeople. Well, this week's horrifying shooting rampage has brought to light some facts that give you pause about that vaunted European model.

As Sabine Rennefranz reports in today's London Guardian, German schools have developed serious problems over the last decade. For one thing, the teaching cadre is older, average age 54, and they don't receive any instruction in psychology or child development. They look at students strictly in terms of how well they perform in class. Second, there is less social mobility in German society than in a lot of places, so that if you are deemed voc-tech material and you don't want that, you see a lot of doors shutting on you permanently, even if you do get a good internship. Third, there have been a lot of cutbacks in social welfare and education in recent German budgets. While I don't want to blame societal conditions for an act of apparent insanity, you can see where an average student--like this gunman-- might feel marginalized, trapped, alienated.

The US educational system IS a mess, a patchwork quilt of requirements according to the state you live in, and probably too many students do go to college--anyone who's had a large undergraduate intro class and compared the numbers at the beginning and end know this. Students come in with poor skills and inferior basic knowledge. And yet, and aren't shut off from college if you choose not to attend when you are might not get into a top university, but you can get your college degree at any age if you've got some initiative and desire and get yourself a professional position. And redemption is always just around the corner for people who have trouble...faculty and staff will almost always work with you to help you succeed if you let them. This educational system, and for that matter the society in which it is based, is still far more mobile and flexible than most, with all its myriad flaws.

I think i will be revisiting some of my fundamental beliefs about Things here vs. Things elsewhere...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dueling dips

We interrupt this blog for a bulletin from the temporarily unfriendly skies:

Самолет вернулся в Каир из-за драки российских дипломатов
Два российских дипломата подрались в самолете, выполнявшем рейс №791 Каир (Египет) – Сана (Йемен), сообщил портал
Как сообщил старший бортпроводник, сначала дипломаты начали ожесточенно спорить, а когда остальные пассажиры попытались их успокоить, началась драка.
Из-за того, что в столкновении один из россиян серьезно пострадал, пилот самолета принял решение вернуться в аэропорт Каира спустя полчаса после взлета.

If your Russian language isn't up to snuff, the English of the site's report is as follows:

"Plane returns to Cairo after diplomat fisticuffs"

Two Russian diplomats came to blows on flight 791 from Cairo, Yemen's reports.

The chief steward reported that the fight began with a heated argument, and when passengers tried to calm the two men, they began pummeling one another.

Because one of the men was badly injured in the fight, the pilot decided to return to Cairo airport about a half hour after takeoff."

It's been a little difficult on the blogging front, because I generally applaud the performance of our new President, my man Barack O'Bama, and because i am still trying to figure out why anyone would buy a toxic mortgage since by definition they are worthless. That doesn't exactly make my opinion on financial crises golden. But fortunately, we can always count on Russian diplomats to entertain us, whether they are rolling in the aisles at 35,000 feet or chiding the US Secretary of State for using the word "overload" rather than "reset" on what was supposed to be the "reset button" for US-Russian relations.

Thank you Sergei Lavrov and staff, in or out of the hospital!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Women's Day?

This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. Women have come far, but in too many spots on the planet have much further to go.

Mothers in Iraq pimp their daughters
That underworld is a place where nefarious female pimps hold sway, where impoverished mothers sell their teenage daughters into a sex market that believes females who reach the age of 20 are too old to fetch a good price. The youngest victims, some just 11 and 12, are sold for as much as $30,000, others for as little as $2,000. "The buying and selling of girls in Iraq, it's like the trade in cattle," Hinda says. "I've seen mothers haggle with agents over the price of their daughters."

One step forward and two steps back in Afghanistan.
On the same day an Afghan female lawmaker announced her candidacy for Afghanistan's presidency, an impoverished widow seeking to escape a life of despair set herself on fire.

African Women continue to struggle against abuse and genocide.
Ban recalled a young woman he met on his trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who was "brutally and violently abused by four soldiers at gunpoint" in eastern Congo while fleeing fighting that destroyed her village.

"She is now at the Heal Africa hospital in Goma, suffering not only from her physical injuries but from being ostracised by her village and family from a false sense of shame", he said.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Happy Happy, Joy Joy

I am a great fan of snow. Love snow. Sadly, DC is not exactly in the snow belt. So when we get even a little I am happy. Today we've got more than a little. So to move briefly away from politics & world events to the simple pleasure. Yea Snow!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Taxation Without Representation

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to DC was my inability to vote for much of anything. To vote for anyone who matters on the national station. Congress was kind enough to let me vote for President as well as a non-voting member of Congress. Yup, my representation in the national legislation was one person who doesn't get to vote on anything. Oh yeah, and in return I still got to pay federal taxes. It's no wonder that "Taxation Without Representation" has been the shout out from DC residents for years now. Sadly many tourists who see that on our license plates have no clue. The few polls done on the topic show that most Americans don't realize that DC residents have fewer rights than they do.

But in return, I do get to live in a city where a brain-dead representative from No Place, Georgia, can create legislation that affects my day to day life as a resident of the city. Who wouldn't sign up for such a lovely situation! Can you imagine what would happen if this was offered to people outside DC? Hi citizens of Dallas, Texas, we're taking your US Representative and Senators away, and oh yeah, and by the way, the Representative from New York City gets to decide what laws you'll live by in Dallas.

With trepidation (will I jinx us?) I am watching legislation move along that will provide me with a delegate who can actually vote on national legislation. Wouldn't that be something.

Yes, Let's Not Forget Afghanistan . . .

In one of those "let's check in on the former first lady & see how she's doing" interviews with Laura Bush, she said that she hopes President Obama does not get distracted by other matters because the U.S. should continue to have a presence in Afghanistan.

Fair enough. Although a few years to late. Did the reporter stop to ask Ms. Bush what she thought of her husband's abandonment of Afghanistan in favor of driving out Saddam and rebuilding Iraq in whatever little Neo-Con image he had in mind? Nope. Because we treat our ex-first ladies with kid gloves. But it's nice to know that at least one of the Bushes who currently lived in the White House thought our efforts in Afghanistan were important.

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