Monday, November 28, 2011

Too Big to Fail?

Does anyone remember the political satire strip featuring a possum named Pogo? Well, one of his quotables was “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
I just finished reading an article in Bloomberg ( that  exceeds my ability to grasp. When I see a sum like 7.7 trillion dollars, I have to stop and count the zeros on my fingers. And toes. That is the amount parceled out to six banks, with no strings attached, in 2009. That sum is also more than half the value of goods produced in this country that year. 
Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know about this. Neither did members of Congress. Whose money is being strewn about? Ours. Who’s doing the strewing? The Federal Reserve, or course. They were “rescuing the financial system,” and fought in the courts for two years to keep this little secret from us. While much has been criticized about the TARP handouts, those funds were intended for “healthy institutions” so they could resume lending money to get the economy rolling. These “healthy” institutions were backing their armored cars to the back of the Federal Reserve, accepting loans and guarantees, while accepting TARP funds at the front door. TARP only handed out $700 billion (11 zeros?) and has been mostly repaid.  Where is the 7.7 trillion?
Remember the phrase “too big to fail?” How did they get that way? Pogo knows. Maybe OWS and TP can find a common ground here. That could form a group too big to fail.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Life Reports

Along with thousands of others, I sent off a short autobiography to David Brooks, the columnist for the New York Times. The only qualification was that you had to be over  70. I made that cut.

He has started publishing them on his blog, feed:// and hope he publishes them as a book. They are stories of survival,  of overcoming obstacles, of joy, of grief. I can identify with every one. So many saw their parents as loving but distant, even dysfunctional, as negative examples.

I wonder if they are typical of all 70-somethings, or just those who chose to write to David Brooks about their lives? I wonder if our children will write their autobiographies. I wonder how they will remember us?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pepper Spray to Bullets

Some of you readers are too young to remember the Kent State Massacre. It should not be forgotten, so maybe the pepper spraying of the UC Davis students is a time for remembering. 
On May 4, 1970, students at Kent State University, in Ohio, were protesting the American invasion of Cambodia. Other students were just walking by to see what was going on. None of the students were armed. The school administration called on the National Guard to put an end to the demonstration. The Guard did this by shooting 13 students, 4 of whom died. One other suffered permanent paralysis. 
To put this event in perspective, demonstrations were popping up all over in the ’60’s. Protesters were cordoned off and clubbed at the Republican Convention in Chicago in 1968.  Many of the protesters were objecting to the Vietnam War. Students expressed their opinions with natural exuberance; at some schools they “occupied” campus administrative offices. 
Pepper spray, or mace, or batons, or fire hoses showed increasing  violence by police against protesters. It also led to increased news coverage of the demonstrations. This arguably led to the end of the Vietnam war, as the government was forced to acknowledge the depth of public sentiment against it. The Kent State Massacre was a watershed event. The loss of respect for authority in general, and law enforcement in particular was the price paid for unnecessary violence. The Kent State lesson has not been learned.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

That old house

When we moved to our last house in 1969,  it was twenty years old. Actually, the main part of the house was that old, but the family room and the two back bedrooms had been carved out of the old garage and tool shed in 1968. No heat or air conditioning. These renovations were the personal work of the dentist who sold us the house. The dentist knew nothing about home improvements, but it took us a while to figure this out. There was nothing behind the paneling, just boards at the top and bottom to nail it to. Oh, and a fuse box that controlled the heater.
The back bathroom was so small I couldn’t go all the way in it until I had a baby, which is why we needed a bigger house. It smelled very odd.
The first time the plumber came, he was amazed to find that the sink had no trap. That’s when we learned that the trap is not just to accumulate debris until it stops up, it’s to trap deadly sewer gas. It hadn’t exploded yet, but we had it changed anyway. We did not yet know how frequent the visits by the plumbers, electricians, and other repairmen would be. We once heard two of them comparing notes about service calls to our house. They would sit around at their offices and pick a number or flip a coin to see who had to come.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Memory Games

A magazine article I was reading shed some light on memory. It is not a little vault in your brain where memories are stored, like I thought. It is an assortment of those little pink spongy things that make up our brain. Memory is flexible, and it changes every time we visit it. The act of visiting your memory carries bits of your present along with it.

It takes me back to "A Gift From the Sea," by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She realizes that your point of view alters your past, present and future. Your attitude shapes your perception of all three. That is one book to read at different stages of your life.

This also makes me think of science fiction, and why I get uncomfortable with books about time travel. You can't go into the future because it's not there. You can't change the past, because it would change the future, and that's not allowed. I will not read Stephen King's new book about preventing JFK's assassination.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What Were They Thinking?

Interesting double murder trial here this week. Guy is charged with shooting his ex and her boyfriend. He takes the stand, a very unusual move. A very unfortunate move. Someone called 911 and left the line open, and there is a recording of screams, a command by a male to "Get on the bed!" and then shots rang out. The prosecutor played it for the jury.

When the accused testified that he didn't do it, didn't know anything about it, wasn't there, etc. his voice sounded just like the voice on the tape. However, when his lawyer asked him to say "Get on the bed!" he spoke in a foreign accent. "Geet on zee bed?" The jury was out for about an hour.

The other trial was of a County Commissioner caught on videotape taking money from an undercover cop, counting out the cash, stuffing it in his pocket. His defense was that it was not a bribe, but a campaign contribution.  Of course, such contributions must be reported, and he forgot to report this one. Didn't take that jury long, either.

Moral: if you're caught on tape you'd better have a really good story. And can the accent.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

eulogy and a funeral

This idea of writing a brief autobiography is getting spooky. I feel like I’m writing a modest eulogy. If my kids crib from this when the time comes for the real thing, remember I want “Joy to the World” played at the service.  Not the Christmas Carol, the Three Dog Night version that opens with “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,” played loud, and please rise when you hear Jeremiah.
Funerals are peculiar, because the guest of honor is long gone. When Mama died, she got lost on the way to the funeral. They flew her casket from Jacksonville to Atlanta for the hearse to pick her up and go to the Sparta, Georgia cemetery and family plot. When we got to the cemetery, there was no Mama, no grave, no hearse, no nothing. We called the funeral home and they said it was the 4th of July. So we all went next door to Aunt Louise’s and ate peach cobbler. They found the hearse and told them to try again the next day to find Sparta, and by then they might be able to round up some grave diggers.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Herman, you aren't ready for prime time politics. Every silly thing, every little oopsie, every hasty remark, each and every one will come up and bite you in the butt when you go into politics. Didn't anybody tell you that?

They should have told you, warned you, coached you, so you didn't get blindsided. If they didn't, you need a better group of "they." I'm not very politically savvy, but even I could have coached you better. The weakest response is "I didn't do it." Even if true, it's what you would say if you did it.

Right up there with that dumb statement is "I forgot all about it." Maybe you did, or wish you had, but everybody didn't forget. Even if you didn't do it. Do what?

Come on, Herman. How about "I'm just a big flirt."  Hey, it worked for Clarence Thomas. This "I didn't do it, and I forgot, and they asked for it, and my opponents made it up" are right up there with "The dog ate my homework." Used up, tired  old cliches.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Life Stories

David Brooks, one of my favorite columnists, is inviting us over-70 types to send him our life stories. He is desperate for column ideas. He suggests categories, such as career, family, and others, and asks us to grade ourselves on each. Wow!

I have tried writing biographical bits and pieces before. The first time I tried, I got stuck in 1944 and wrote a novelette about it. Well, David, one year down, 73 to go. How much time you got? Even if I had to pick the most memorable years, it's a formidable task. Maybe the most forgettable years? I forgot them. There must be a better way to organize my thinking, other than chronological. How about "The Size Twelve Years?" "The Year of No Dogs?"or "The Year of Five Jobs?"

Once organized, then I simply have to fill in the details. Twenty-five words, or twenty-five pages. Maybe twenty-five chapters? No one would read that, not even me. Certainly not David Brooks, because he's going to get a bunch of these. He plans to write about them. Will he name names? of family and friends?

The really hardest part will be to grade myself in each category. On a curve? Based on my life against that of another, or category against category? I get an "A" in family but a "C-" in self-actualization, maybe. If comparing myself to others, I intend to leave out Mother Theresa and Lindsay Lohan, David.