lundi, février 27, 2006

Weekend Update

I saw “Doogal” this weekend with TinyE – frankly I’m a bit stunned that it started in France, then was done in Great Britain, and then was made for audiences here. I’m hard pressed to figure out why anyone would go to all the trouble. Last weekend we saw “Curious George” and though it limps a bit at the ¾ mark*, I much prefer it to “Doogal.” TinyE on the other hand…

Saturday night I was at a bar in St. Paul watching the Kansas v. Texas debacle. Oh well, we’ll get ‘em in the Big 12 tournament. It was like being in Kansas, except without the extreme hate and the extreme ignorance. There were over 100 people there – all decked out in Jayhawk gear.

Last, over the weekend I talked to a friend, who, for purposes of this post, I’ll call George. My friend is the most conservative person I know. He is Catholic (not that that makes him conservative), pro-life, favors big business, supported the war, he has the whole xenophobia thing going on, and he talks often about having gay culture “shoved down his throat” [I’ll pause while you…oh never mind]. When we talked this weekend he said a number of things that really surprised me and quite filled my heart with hope – perhaps (as Chris Martin says) everything’s not lost. He said:

“Okay, I’ll admit that Bush is not the best President ever. I’m actually kind of tired of him.”
“I’m tired of Cheney too.” (But he feels the Veep is getting a bum rap for peppering his pal).
“Okay, so looking back on it, maybe the war was a mistake.”

And yes, some of his beefs with the President have to do with him not being conservative enough – he’s obsessed with the borders (and we should do something to tighten things up a bit there), and government spending under Bush has him down, but…

For a guy who enthusiastically voted for Bush in ’00 and ’04, for a guy who listens to Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh religiously, for a guy who likes O’Reilly and Coulter and the National Review…these admissions are a sign that some tiny little bit of illuminating light is getting in there and it reaching people who I would have thought were unreachable.

*The Jack Johnson soundtrack is TinyE's fav right now - she especially like the cover of "Three is a Magic Number" with "reduce, reuse, recycle" as a mantra.

mercredi, février 22, 2006

War! What is It Good for? Well, Patriotism and, Well...Apparently...Solving Problems!

Yesterday, a friend sent me an email with a picture of a Ford truck festooned with flags. In the bed of the truck there was a large American flag. On the bumper, a large sticker which read: “Does my American Flag offend you? Call 1-800-LEAVE-THE-USA.”*

I’ve always detested the “America love it or leave it” sentiment. Our reverence for the flag troubles me too. And I love the flag. I like the symbolism of it, and I think the National Anthem is a great and beautiful poem. But we sometimes love the flag more than we love the freedoms it symbolizes, and that bugs me to no end. Also, lately, the flag has been whored out as a prop for whatever conservative cause needs it. Everything said must be good, because look – the flag is there. But those people misuse the flag the same way they misuse God – big time prop/good political strategy. I’m always left to wonder which I detest more: their cynicism or its success.

So, in answer to your question, no, your American flag does not offend me. No American flag offends me. But your use of it does. Now it is a prop in the oldest and dumbest argument of all time – if you don’t see America as flawless, then you don’t love it, and if you don’t love it, then you should leave.

And one other note friend: standard toll free numbers in the U.S. are only 11 digits.

Driving home, I was behind one of America’s great philosophers. The reason I know this is that he had a bumper sticker which read:

“Besides slavery, fascism, nazism and communism, what has war ever solved?”

So, I laughed out loud. I mean did he forget “oil shortages”? What about “re-election”? Did he forget “drugs”?

I processed it for a second and concluded: this clown is pro-war!

Of all the things to support…

More than that, he is unable to see solutions to those issues outside of armed conflict.

By the way, are we now retreating from the infamous argument that the civil war was not about slavery but was about “states rights”? Before you know it, people will admit that the confederate flag represents more than “southern heritage.” I won’t cancel any social engagements waiting for that tea party.

More so, would we say that fascism and communism have been conquered?

Should we declare war on all the nazis who are still around – it was such a good solution the last time? Did we conveniently forget that nazism expressed itself through imperialism (war) and genocide (a form of war)?

And I’ll be the first to admit that war is a part of the human condition, but (man, oh man) can we all agree that what it represents, as much as anything, is the same failure of imagination this gentleman was so proud of that he put it on his car for people like me to ridicule and mock?

Should people this delusional be allowed to drive cars? If I beat him repeatedly about the face and neck as a “cure” for his inanity, would I be justified if I called it a war against stupidity?

*I tried to post the picture, but it would only save as a bitmap thingy, and it would not post here. Please don't bother trying to educate me on how to upload it. I'm hopeless.

mardi, février 14, 2006

On Intellectualismality Versus the Heart

Greetings from Santa Ana, California, where yes, on Valentine’s Day, I am away from home for a business meeting.

I have a friend who, for purposes of this post, I’ll call CK1. Now, CK1 is an intellectual’s intellectual. Hers is the life of the mind. Some time ago, CK1 was breaking down for me all her reasons for liberating ourselves from celebrations and rituals that are primarily motivated by commerce. Along these lines, Christmas would be marked for reconsideration, and so, of course, would today’s St. Valentine’s Day.

Along those lines, I heard on the radio yesterday that the average shopper spends $125 on Valentine’s Day.

I read in USA Today just a moment ago that 22% of women send themselves flowers on Valentine’s Day.

[I’ll pause while you digest that]

Because I am a leading thinker of our time, and because mine is a life of intellectual rigor, a life that favors reason above all else, I found much to like in CK1’s discourse.

Hallmark props up the day, and if we don’t live up to it’s expectations, then we’re horrible. They added the celebration, much as they are attempting to add Grandparent’s Day now, as a new business line. It will take a while, but soon, grandparents everywhere will flip out if they don’t get a card and flower.

And this was my driving thought last Friday, when headquarters insisted that I come out for a meeting. Because mine is a caring and sensitive company, the invitation was accompanied by sincere concern about how Mrs. Duf* might receive the news. With confidence, I boasted “no worries. My wife (sensible above all else) does not care about such things.”

And friends, let me pass along that when we are most confident, is perhaps when we should be most concerned.

But all was not lost, we celebrated early:

We went to dinner at our Melting Pot restaurant**

We went to the Minnesota Orchestra's passionate presentation of Tchaicovsky’s Symphony No. 4***

I bought my love a couple of books, including this one.

I wrote her a poem (abandoning my typical cynicism, instead striving for a light sugary-sweet tone).

And because all ramblings should eventually taper, and because all stories of this sort should have some kind of punch line, I feel it is my obligation to pass along this small bit of wisdom…

wisdom that arrived to me just now, sitting in my room at the very end of the hall on the 6th floor of an older Doubletree Hotel…

wisdom that arrived just as I finished my room service veggie burger whilst watching the wonderful Iowa v. Michigan State game…

wisdom I wish I could impart to all the drivers and passengers in all the cars that are zooming past me on the 405…

wisdom I hope to share with CK1...

this wisdom:

Regardless of the motive, it’s okay to celebrate our passions and attachments; there is no poor basis for telling someone you love them and care about them. Let Hallmark make a little coin for a good idea. Let’s all prop up jewelry stores and spas and florists. Let’s all make a strong February for restaurants and for sleazy motels.

And this accompanying revelation:

a hotel room, 2,200 miles from home with only an aged laptop and a plate of cold freedom fries can be a little lonely...even on a propped up holiday.

Happy Valentine's Day, friend - hug your people.

*After much discussion, the now short-lived moniker recently attached to my love, “The Gardener” has been voted down (perhaps my most faithful reader pointed out that it made her sound like hired help (the furthest thing from my intention)). Rather than torture myself in search of an alternative, its predecessor, “Mrs. Duf” has been resurrected.

**We walked in without reservations and secured a booth for two complete with a privacy curtain. Sure, it was a little close to the kitchen, but one has to take one’s luck where one finds it. I’m told that our Minneapolis Melting Pot is second in total sales only to the Melting Pot in Kansas City – a point of particular pride for me because my little brother works at the KC MP.

***With grateful appreciate to JK and RK a.k.a. DK for sponsoring our symphony experience as a Christmas present (and for babysitting). The Minnesota Orchestra opened with Barber’s Adagio for Strings (loved by all, hated by none). It was a wonderful evening.

jeudi, février 09, 2006

Bye Bye Al

I started working in the mortgage industry in 1999. At that time, Bill Clinton was our President, and our company's biggest challenge was finding and retaining qualified customer service personnel. Our unemployment rate was so low that jobs were widely available, and any person who could get to work everyday was a hot commodity. If you understood a PC and how to work in a windows based environment, you could write your own ticket. Hiring and retention bonuses were common. At our company, we lowered our standards to the point where we would take any person who could just show up and try (the "on time" part we weren’t all that picky about).

Soon thereafter Clinton left, and in his place the Supreme Court appointed a jackass and a fool. The new guy slept through important presidential daily briefings (like "al Qaeda Determined to Strike U.S. Targets"), and made other huge mistakes. However, one thing he did for continuity (like so many of his predecessors) was keep Alan Greenspan as his Fed Chairman.

Now that Greenspan is retired, a lot of publications are analyzing his legacy. The Economist (ironically) basically panned him. I have to admit that when the tech bubble popped, he did a fine job of keeping the explosion at a minimum. But Greenie lost me, when he basically handed Bush an artificially inflated economy (and helped him with the 2004 election) by keeping short-term interest rates low. You may notice that he started to raise them a quarter point here and a quarter point there right after the 2004 election. Prior to that he kept interest rates low so that the economy would seem like it was thriving. We were, all of us, irrationally exuberant.

More proof of how Greenspan swayed with the political winds, can be seen in how he worked with Clinton. Clinton’s priority was deficit reduction. Greenspan worked with his Treasury Secretaries to accomplish the goal. I wonder sometimes how he felt when Bush came in with tax cuts for the wealthy and a plan that would build up the deficit Clinton erased. I wonder if he got whiplash or if he felt like a child who destroys his own sand castle right after making it (the tax cuts were lousy economic policy but sound political policy – people don’t care about deficits, but they LOVE tax cuts –even when they (read: middle class taxpayers) don’t even get them).

Over here in mortgage, people were getting rich. Very rich (your humble author excepted). Recent college grads were taking Loan Officer jobs with top 20 lenders, sitting at a desk and waiting for the phone to ring (and boy did it ring). They’d answer, let a computer pick the best loan and rake in origination fees like nobody’s business. Often I heard of 24 year olds making $300,000 a year without breaking a sweat. It was easy money. Interest rates were low, home prices were rising, but who cared. If you had a home, you sold it for more than it was worth. If you bought a house, you probably paid too much, but you didn’t fret. Prices were going up, up, up. You knew you’d recover your losses in about a month or two.

People were refinancing every year. They took their equity out and went to Home Depot, or the local Ford dealership. The whole economy was sustained by the mortgage industry. The mortgage industry was propped up by a lie, and the biggest liar of them all was Alan Greenspan.

And now, I have a feeling we’re going to pay for all that bad policy. Everyone talks about the housing bubble (tech bubble, housing bubble, fragile spheres both). Interest rates are rising. Lenders are writing fewer loans everyday. Houses are staying on the market longer. Sellers are lowering their prices. When you ask realtors if this is a buyers market, they laugh and tell you it has been for months. All of the sudden, things are returning to normal - which is to say: all the sudden you can't on housing to save the day.

With one exception. A lot of the loans the computer picked were interest only loans and ARMs. Out there are a lot of hidden balloon payments and ARMs about to give way to higher interest rates. People bought extra house (or extra fancy) counting on things always being easy and grand. Now that they’re not, foreclosures are at an all time high, and the worst is not even here yet.

If there's a collapse. Just remember that the retired Fed Chairman had a role in it.

mardi, février 07, 2006

Proof that Words Speak Louder than Actions - From Two Credible Sources

From Newsweek:

Ford received $250,000,000 from the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004.

Ford cut 10,000 jobs in 2005.

Ford plans to cut still more jobs in 2006 and just announced a round of plant closings.

And people ask “what’s in a name?”

From AP:

There have been 56,000 divorces among service men and women and their former spouses since 2001 when the war in Afghanistan started.

Now, we can’t know if causation or correlation is at work, but intuitively we know that the stress of the theater and the stress of extended duty on a family has a lot to do with families being torn asunder.

Intuitively we know that many more will follow when more service men and women return wounded (either physically or psychologically).


The party that promises jobs and growth delivers buckets of cash to corporations and empty promises to working men and women.


The party that speaks often of the sanctity of marriage, sponsors and drives a policy which keeps families apart for years and directly and indirectly causes 56,000 divorces.

jeudi, février 02, 2006

The President is a Big Dummy (argumentum ad hominem)

Two troubling statements lately, no?

First, I was troubled by the President’s statement during his SOTUA, that “If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.”

Second, there is the “man on the street” comment that is oft-cited these days and goes a little something like this (hit it!): “if the government wants to listen in while I talk to my Aunt Millie, that’s fine with me.” It’s a nice play on Secretary Rumsfeld’s statement on “Meet the Press.”

May I decode both messages?

Thank you.

The first message says:

People inside our country are talking to al Qaeda.
The government only listens when those folks talk to al Qaeda.
If they don’t listen, then we will be “hit” again (argumentum ad baculum – Bush’s favorite device of all).
Listening in is essential to our protection.
The only thing we can do to avoid being hit again is listen in.
We were hit last time because we weren’t listening in (post hoc ergo propter hoc)
Last: you there, listening to my speech. Yes, you. You are dumb.

The second message says:

I have nothing to hide, so I don’t care if my rights are undermined.
Stated differently, a premise I refuse to endorse, only people with something to hide care about invasions of privacy. Nice.

I love how, in a speech about war, the President totally chickens out.

An overwhelming majority of Americans don’t have an issue with the government eavesdropping on calls from potential terrorists to terrorist organizations. Only an unreasonable person would be against such a thing. In this instance, by the way, “unreasonable person” = Democrats.

Many of them, your humble author included, still feel that the government ought to be troubled to obtain approval for that listening-in. Even if the approval is obtained after the eavesdropping is done. Your boy George can’t be bothered to get approvals either before or after the tap. Why? The rules don’t apply to him.

Additionally, when no approval is sought, there is no protection to make sure that the government isn’t intercepting other calls. Bushie says they’re listening when calls are placed from here to al Qaeda, but what’s to say they’re not listening to calls completely unrelated to the war on terror? And if they aren’t, then why not get the approvals for all your taps? I hear it’s simple, fast and hassle-free. To use Bush’s argumentation devices against him, let me practice syllogisms W-style:

All appropriate wiretap requests are approved by FISA.
The government routinely seeks FISA approval for its reasonable requests.
Therefore, the failure to seek FISA approval is an admission that the request is not appropriate.
Inappropriate wiretaps are taken place.

I just proved it up, ain't I?

Bush conveniently failed to address why his administration won’t go to FISA for the necessary approvals, and he conveniently glosses over how the failure to do so leaves us no recourse in the event of abuse. In fact, there’s no way to detect abuse.

And to my brothers and sisters who are so quick to defend this usurpation on the grounds that “it’s okay to listen in because I have nothing to hide” should recognize that their viewpoint puts us all on a slippery slope toward a state where Presidents routinely abuse their powers. Set against the current concern of an executive run amok, even the most upright among us should not be so quick to push aside the bill of rights. First privacy, then speech, then religion, then guns.

We have an obligation to ourselves to not just pick the expedient course. Let’s fight the so called war on terror without always taking the easy route, you know, the one that leaves our constitutional rights aflame.

If we love this country and what is stands for, we must also defend our beliefs and traditions against abuse and attempts to undermine those beliefs and traditions – no matter from whence they come (the White House), and no matter why (quote time of war unquote).

mercredi, février 01, 2006

One in Ten...Shabby (and Deservedly So)

American Idol (a show which appears on one network) had 18 million viewers.

Immediately following American Idol (on all the major networks) the State of the Union Address had 24 million viewers. (All the Republicans stand up and clap!!!)

Isn’t that a state of the union in itself?

Of the 24 million who watched, 16 million consider themselves Republicans.

As for me and my household, we watched “Wedding Crashers!”

I haven’t missed a SOTU Address in over 20 years. It was quite easy to miss this one.