Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The First Bad Bank

Elsewhere in these ramblings (link provided when I'm less lazy)I've reflected on Alexander Hamilton. For those who dozed through American history ('fess up! Most of you) he was our first Secretary of the Treasury. He was also the founder of a wide swath of American conservative thought. Ironically, he was also the father of our first nationalised financial institution, the Bank of the United States.

However, the same era provides us with a useful precedent for the idea of a bad bank. Timothy Dexter, a Newburyport tanner, developed an eccentric reputation in the final years of the American Revolution by accepting Continental paper dollars in payment for his goods. Since they were considered nearly worthless, Dexter's neighbours were delighted to shove the money into his hands in exchange for leather goods.

Enter the United States Government, and its Treasury, run by Hamilton, which redeemed Continental dollars at par. Dexter became a rich man overnight, and began a legend that thrives to this day.

Bad banks are not such a bad idea, if you're crazy enough--and farsighted enough--to start one.

Friday, January 30, 2009

More proof

I always wondered if the iconic Little Debbie and the Keebler Elf had something going on that their PR people were hiding from us. Apparently it was some kink involving peanut butter, because they both have products on the FDA recall list.

So do Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's (although not peanuts or peanut butter per se). Oh, the humanity!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ahead of their time

I gather that as Yuppiedom has pressed its way into the boondocks, RFD as it once was has gradually been supplanted by more sophisticated mail delivery. I mean, lawd, they drive real mail trucks now!

Now that the Postmaster General has warned that six-day mail delivery may no longer be cost-effective, it would seem that the mainstream Postal Service has finally caught up with the work ethic of the old-time rural carrier.

Once upon a time, if you lived in the country, the theory was that RFD delivered six days a week, and neither rain, nor snow, get it. Where I lived, being "on the mail" was a useful adjunct to farming, and the carriers weren't fools enough to let, say, a clear day for haying go to waste delivering mail.

Many of these worthy gentlemen were also of the mold of Yankee who would bend a road around a large rock rather than put in extra work removing the rock, and who never stood upright if there was a useful object to lean against. Six-day mail delivery, then, was something of a joke.

There actually was a joke, in which an irate customer confronted the RFD carrier about the lack of delivery yesterday. "Wal," says the country postman, "the bag wa'nt full."

So that's all our postmaster general really has to do now. Don't deliver the mail if the bag ain't full.

Monday, January 26, 2009

But is it on a dark desert highway?

I had one of those "OK, I'm freaked!" moments when I read Forbes' evaluation (via Yahoo) that the San Ysidro Ranch is the best hotel in America.

In addition to the title remark, I'd want to know when you can check out before making my reservation.

Note to future generations. These comments are the witless speculation typical of this blog. There was a song. There is a hotel. The distance between them--or lack thereof-- is mere whimsy.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Possibly the last Inauguration comments online, 2

A story (apocryphal) is told of Voltaire. He and a party of others, riding in open country, happened to witness a spectacular sunset. So beautiful was it that Voltaire was moved to dismount, throw himself on his knees, and cry "Oh, Mon Dieu! I believe!"

He got back on the horse, paused, then got off and said, "But, as to Monsieur your son and Madame his mother--that is another matter."

For those of us who still quaintly think that how and whom people come to love ought not to affect their civil rights any more than their skin colour, philosophy or ethnic background, January 20, 2009 is only a good start.

I would like it better if Rick Warren and Gene Robinson had changed places.

Possibly the last Inauguration comments online, 1

I've been busy, so bite me.

I had just enough time yesterday to hear Obama's speech. Then I went into a long distance meeting involving, among others, a woman of colour in Washington. It was dicey whether she'd make it, because she decided that she had to go to the Mall before we did business. She is, by the way, under 40: so much for the premise that a black president isn't a novelty to people under 40.

It interested me to see and hear black entertainers and news types wrap themselves around the words "first black president," with a little frisson or perhaps coming to the edge of tears. It may be that the idea of a black president is no big deal to young American white people. I don't think that's true t'other way around.

It's been a big enough deal for me. When I was in my teens, our minister began to get heavily involved in the civil rights movement. He was a genuine Boston Brahmin, the sort of patrician who had three last names as his name. He was driven in the cause unusually hard, went south several times and came near to leaving his bones there on a couple of occasions. Watching yesterday, I wish he had lived to see this inauguration: not just because we now have a black president, but because real racial equality has just now ceased to be an airy abstraction, and become something I may yet live to see. It was the crowd, as much as the man they came to see, that interested me.

Years later, my minister finally revealed why he was so driven. In the course of some ordinary bit of genealogy, he had found that the family fortune came chiefly from the slave trade. Oh, I know it's quite the popular little diss to assume that all old money New Englanders made their pile from slave trading. It isn't true in most cases, but it was in this one. Whatever other's motivations were in joining the civil rights cause, his in part was to do just a little to even the score.

He'd rest easier knowing that it probably helped that he took his turn pledging his life, his fortune and his sacred honour to something worthwhile.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Five miles uphill both ways

When I was a boy...actually, when I was a young adult, Uncle Sam in his wisdom sent me to Navy boot camp in Great Lakes, winter.

The story was that Great Lakes existed to toughen sailors up for the battle of the Atlantic. Probably so. After boots at Great Lakes, a few hours submerged in the midwinter North Atlantic would have seemed like a jacuzzi. I grew up in central New Hampshire and I thought I knew what cold was. I must swear here, on a stack of Richard Dawkins books, that I have never been anywhere before or since that could beat the centre part of those 12 weeks in Illinois.

The high temperature at Great Lakes did not get above zero for a month: one month. The low temperature was past believing. Of course, the Navy in its wisdom had us doing business as usual until the sick bay was swamped with second-degree frostbite cases: the kind with ugly black blisters. You got first-degree frostbite on your ears from having to go anywhere in dress or undress uniform with white hat, and it hardly counted. You got second degree frostbite trying to hang laundry outdoors, after dark, with the temperature at I don't-wanna-know-how-many-degrees below zero.

I had always heard that it could get so cold that your spit would freeze before it hit the ground. That's the only place I've seen it happen.

You report for watch at 0330, outdoors. En route, you spit. You hear a distinct "chink!"

Curious, you spit again. "Chink!" You realise the legend is true, and hurry to report before you become a swabsicle.

Next morning, we heard that the low wind chill reading that night was...dramatic geezer pause...-72F. The still air temperature was a disturbingly high proportion of that figure. Thereafter, the management decided to secure all outdoor activity until the weather moderated.

So don't tell me about how cold it is. Anywhere east and south of that is a frickin sauna.

Note from today's weather. The temperature ranges in Chicago and other Midwestern cities were lower than in Fairbanks, Alaska. My hat is off to all of you out there: but not for long.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Disaster items

First, a note to self. Pay more attention when the flight attendants go through the ditching drill. Apparently, it can work.

Second, although I confess to an inherited interest in the Braves...Smoltz? I thought the Sox had given up hiring senior citizens for the starting rotation.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Slogans I detest

For reasons that will occur to at least one regular, I just blogged one of the slogans I hate above all others: "Freedom is not free." I had the good fortune to find a current post by a kindred spirit.

I was daydreaming about hunting down the original authors of this piece of fatuity and either strangling them or smashing their two typing fingers, but this person outdid me and found a plausible author: Dean Rusk. Dean Rusk, a former staff officer who numbers amongst his credits the bright idea of dividing Korea along the 38th parallel.

Speaking--to be perfectly clear--as a veteran, I find there are three sorts of people who wander around muttering this sort of platitude. The most common these days are the lot who have never served one day of military service: often, they nurture a peculiar envy of those who did, even to the extent of manufacturing bogus military records. The ones who used to be the most common spent their wars in safe jobs, never exposed to hazard or injury of any kind. Both my father and one uncle, who had their fill of horrors, spoke with contempt of these people...the ones who led the Legion and the VFW. The ones like them who knew better stayed silent for many years...sometimes all their lives.

I'm the first to say my Navy day job was comparatively safe: it was the occasional diversions that provided the exposure.

The most pathetic of the platitude-addicted can't get over their service. Not because of PTSD: believe me, I know what that's about. They can't get over it because they have never, or think they have never, done anything as important in their lives as to go out and put on a uniform and, in a few cases, get shot at or otherwise endangered. Once, some of them were brilliant men--think Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Joshua L. Chamberlain--whose glorification of war is past comprehension.

The actual modern veteran who obsesses about his service, and the always-civilian wannabe, get hard to tell apart. They must make a golden memory of a horror which, while it must be shared and should be told, ought not to be glorified. I am sorry for both groups. They must live their lives as servants to people like Rusk, for whom platitudes like this are just a means of mass exploitation. They never give themselves a chance to see the value of the other things they have done, or could do.

One idea found at that link above I enjoy above all others: that freedom is free. It is in fact an unalienable right , according to a document that has been rather tarnished over the last eight years.

Friday, January 09, 2009


Once upon a time I used to torment my cubicle mate with stories from my misspent youth (and young adulthood and middle age...). One of them concerned my time working for a property management company.

It had wide-ranging interests. My job was to promote their failing retail property, which I helped fail faster, I think. However, we had a couple of other guys who were a couple of do-it-all types. One of their jobs was to collect rent in an economically disadvantaged part of a nearby city.

Once, when they were going off on the rent run, these two began a jovial argument about who was going to take what tools along on this trip. Along with a tin box for the money (if any), a clipboard, and various gadgets for boarding up or breaking into abandoned property, the toolkit included an M-16 semiautomatic rifle and a Glock semiautomatic pistol (I am not making this up). When you collect rent from people whose living comes from selling certain types of dried leaves or different types of white powder, you succeed with superior firepower.

It was this news item that brought it all back. The prosecutor says "Nobody brings a hatchet and wears rubber gloves to discuss rent at that hour of the morning." He obviously never tried to collect rent in a crack house.

I think the management had it backwards. Those two should have promoted the retail property and I should have helped our disadvantaged tenants market their weed and powders. The retail property would have had crowds of people, brought in at gunpoint, whilst my marketing singlehandedly eliminated the drug problem in that city.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Signs you may be aging

I joined a gym. For several years, in jobs and school, my pampered arse didn't need to leave the building to use a gym. At the new place, one has to walk about 100 m (uphill, mind) to make use of a very sweet deal with a local gym.

Now that I've graduated from physical therapy, I jined up at last. However, the referenced signs are that, when sizing up a gym, one looks for a critical mass of grey hair and body fat rather than hard, young bodies. It has both: enough of the former for camouflage, and enough of the latter to improve the scenery. And lots of stuff.

I don't know about their spin classes, though. I studied it but haven't signed. The throbbing music, the savage leader, the closely spaced bikes, and the darkened room all reminded me much more of Manray than of the last spin class I attended. But no leather....

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Limits to multi-tasking

Warning! warning! Geezer rant follows!

On the way back from BJ's today, I stopped to treat myself to a bagel and lite lunch at a well-known bagel place in this vicinity, which happens to be near an area college.

I almost stepped back out after I stepped in because the first thing I ran into was the queue. Naah, because the bagel faeries had a grip on me and because I can chew again and I don't pass up any chance to do it. Also, I observed that the line was comprised mainly of students from said college. I assumed that this meant they possessed a certain level of intelligence and sociability, and thus these six groups of two or three young persons would efficiently pool their orders.

Now if that doesn't date me, what does?

In all these groups, every last one of these young persons stepped up to the counter separately and placed a separate order, effectively trebling the amount of time it took the line to move.

In one of my more regular blog hangouts, there was just speculation about the multi-tasking capacity of the rising generation. Apparently it has its limits, at least when one links the idea of multi-tasking with everyday computational skills.