Sunday, November 30, 2008

Super-Steve!! Man of Epoxy!!

First he united the right! Now, he has united the left!

What more can this man do! Let's not find out.

Go Coalition, Go!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The trace elements of a nation

A long discussion over on Angry Bear dealt with how economic choices, rational in the short term or in the service of one economic actor, can cumulatively cripple the societies in which these choices are made. Well worth hopping over to read the full conversation, and also taking another hop to read the 1994 address of Sir James Goldstein to the US Congress.

I added to the conversation, and was pleased enough with that comment that I lifted it for here.


For some reason, this discussion is reminding me of the "dead spots" in the ocean where fertilizers poured in and encourage the growth of oxygen sucking algae.

Like so many other issues in economics, the issue of training versus skills versus cost of acquiring those skills rests on a matter of balance. How does a society support the acquisition of skills which are, when all is said and done, not going to be needed frequently enough to support a large number of artisans? I took a tour of an engineering firm a few years ago, where they make to order generators and motors. The men doing this work are all my age now, and will probably be retiring shortly. The workplace was not a factory floor as you would at ordinarily imagine it -- instead it was like a very large workshop, and the "coils" inside the motors and generators were actually bent from lengthy slabs of specially shaped copper. I know for a fact that units produced by this company were integral to parts of the space program from the 1960s.

Motors, generators and transformers have shifted over the past 30 years to a very small number of producers, most of them offshore. Although I'm not in the field anymore, at the time I retired there were really only three or four producers of large power transformers, and the lead time for a single transformer might be three years. In some cases, there would effectively be only one producer because the others were not at that time taking new contracts.

In an emergency situation, how do you quickly replace a damaged transformer? They are not kept sitting on the shelf, one of these would be large enough that it would only fit in my two-story house if I removed strategic portions of flooring and walls.

The crisis of American manufacturing is not, I think, primarily one of job loss. It is instead the loss of capacity to rebuild oneself independently in a crisis. That capacity is only partly dependent on the infrastructure -- the factory floors and steel mills. More importantly, the working knowledge of how these things are built and the working attitude of coming in every day and bending some more copper into shape, but doing it precisely right, have been punished out of the American workforce I believe.

To become skilled in one of these jobs often requires an opportunity loss of becoming skilled in other areas -- in order to train a good machinist requires enough time that the skill becomes the individual's only resource, and if that resource is no longer in demand, the entire field looks like that oceanic dead zone where there isn't enough oxygen to survive.

A balanced diet includes many things -- sugar and fat and protein in large amounts, and iron and chromium and zinc in tiny amounts. But if a person's diet includes no trace elements they end up with deficiency diseases.

I think the loss of niche professions is a deficiency disease in a nation. Identifying and supporting these fields of work may not be financially efficient -- it's much easier to eat a candy bar than it is to eat a balanced diet. But the result of always making the candy-bar choice is a particular disease that weakens its host out of all proportion to the size of the elements needed.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pack a lunch, we’re going for medical supplies

Canada Post is out of the question

When Frodo Baggins set off on the quest of the ring, he sang, “The road goes ever on and on / out from the door where it began…” I wasn’t singing, but I was at least humming, as I headed out to get filters for my CPAP machine.

A CPAP is the cheapest, simplest solution to sleep apnea, a common disorder affecting 2 - 4% of adults. In sleep apnea, as a person falls asleep and then slips into deeper sleep, the air passage relaxes and air can no longer pass, sort of like trying to suck a milkshake through a collapsed straw. To resume breathing the sleeper must rise to a lighter sleep state, something they are not aware of, so they never enter deep, restful sleep.

The CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, pronounced SEE-pap, was invented by an Australian in 1981. It solves the problem by squirting air up your nose while you sleep. This sounds goofy, and looks goofier (imagine headgear like a cross between the creature from the black lagoon and a vacuum cleaner) but it is an elegant effective solution to a non-trivial problem.

As you might imagine, if you’re going to have air blown up your nose, you probably want to filter the air. Thus, my quest for new filters.

Our province covers these supplies. Four years ago when I was diagnosed, the supplies were available from the main hospital in the heart of the city, and thousands of people dealt with them.

Then 18 months ago the province farmed out this part of the job to Rana Medical. What nice, patient people they are. It’s too bad they’re so far away.

They are NOT in the heart of the city, nor even the liver or gall bladder. No, their offices are in the lower left ankle of the city, in a galaxy far away.

So when I drove down there today, it took an hour and a half to get there, pick up my filters, and go back home again, a 32 kilometer round trip, mostly on main routes.

But what if I didn’t have a car? That’s even better. Here’s the bus schedule, one-way at midday.
Option Transfers Departure Time Arrival Time Total Time Walking Time Wait Time
Option 1 2 14:38 15:44 66 minutes 8 minutes 7 minutes
Option 2 2 14:38 15:44 66 minutes 9 minutes 6 minutes
Option 3 1 14:47 15:57 70 minutes 17 minutes 5 minutes
Option 4 1 15:00 15:57 57 minutes 12 minutes 1 minute

An hour each way, including 8 to 17 minutes of walking, is a good chunk of time. (At other times of day it takes even longer.) But I suppose if you’re poor enough to not have a car, then you must have a lot of free time.

But wait – there’s a little bit more.

These filters weight nothing, maybe an ounce or less. Mailing them would cost $1.00 at present. But when I asked if Rana would mail them, I was told by their patient, sweet receptionist that they were not allowed to mail supplies. In fact, I was told that stipulation was in the bid contract from Manitoba Health – no mailing of supplies even if the winning bidder wanted to.

So let’s see what this means. While I was there, another seven people crowded the front desk to get supplies or replace broken equipment. How many people go to Rana in all? At least 7000, probably double that by now.

Say 10,000, that means that on average these CPAP patients travel 320,000 km each year, and spend a little over 2 years of total travel time each year. And who knows what the infirm or elderly do.

Is the savings in money to Manitoba Health worth the extra burden of time and trouble to their patients? I guess it depends which side of the ledger you check – the government side, saving ten grand on postage, or the patient side, making their pilgrimage every year to the wilds of south Fort Garry.

Next time I'll pack "Canterbury Tales."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pumping up the underclass

In many ways, the bankrupt person becomes the equivalent of an ex-convict

Today's NYT talks about bankruptcies, with a real good chart. A little chunk from the article tells us
Downturn Drags More Consumers Into Bankruptcy

...the number of personal bankruptcy filings jumped nearly 8 percent in October from September, after marching steadily upward for the last two years, said Mike Bickford, president of Automated Access to Court Electronic Records, a bankruptcy data and management company.

Filings totaled 108,595, surpassing 100,000 for the first time since a law that made it more difficult — and often twice as expensive — to file for bankruptcy took effect in 2005. That translated to an average of 4,936 bankruptcies filed each business day last month, up nearly 34 percent from October 2007...
This raises a few questions in my mind.

Foremost is the question: what happens to an individual when he files for bankruptcy?

The answer is twofold. On the plus side, whatever debts he had are dealt with and the collectors are off his case.

On the minus side, a host of difficulties are added to his life, and these persist for a good, long time. In many ways, the bankrupt person becomes the equivalent of an ex-convict (although at present, he doesn't lose his vote).

Ordinary living becomes more expensive. The cost of money, of course, rises. Even the modest leeway of a small credit card or a line of credit may become unavailable.

Jobs become harder to get, too. Many background checks look at credit history and exclude bankrupt people.

Health insurance, of course, is out of the question. Considering that 50% or more US bankruptcies occur in the wake of a serious health crisis, the nasty old "pre-existing condition" clause is going to rule that out, even if money isn't a problem.

In short, we are watching from 50,000 to over 100,000 (October data) Americans per month declaring bankruptcy, with a disproportionate number of them being families with children (either married (about 15 per 1000) or single (about 23 per 1000)). The overall bankruptcy rate is something over 7 per thousand.

There are, in fact, more people declaring bankruptcy than going through divorce. Why don't we hear about them? Because, as law professor Elizabeth Warren tells us, "You can't hide divorce, but you can sure hide bankruptcy."

Every year, another million Americans, increasingly with above-median income, enter the bankrupt zone with all the increased expense and risk and shame that carries with it. Will this have an effect on how they raise their kids, where they live, what opportunities they will have? Will it reduce the social cohesion of their families and set them adrift, scrambling still to make ends meet but with new strikes against them? If they couldn't make it before filing for bankruptcy, how will they manage post-filing?

I said at the top, "... the bankrupt person becomes the equivalent of an ex-convict...", but here is the difference. The bankrupt didn't break a law, isn't being punished, and usually has reached this point by trying to pay their bills, feed their kids, and care for their sick family members. "...job loss, medical problems, and family breakups are cited in nearly 90 percent of bankruptcies."

In other words, random events (with the possible exception of divorce) are tipping people, mostly people with children, randomly into a poorer financial domain where their happiness and their utility are deeply, often permanently reduced.

And it's not just younger families heading for the waterfall -- upcoming retirees are in trouble too. In the same issue of the NYT we read "...To date this year, the average employee's 401(k) balance has dropped by 21 to 27 percent..."

Is that any way to build a nation? No. That's how you impoverish a nation. No terrorists could possibly damage Americans as profoundly as it has been damaged by the credit, mortgage, insurance and financial industry assaults on their substance and prospects.

I hope that a new hand on the tiller and a new mind planning the course will be able to reverse these depredations and set in place new safeguards for the majority of Americans. The initial indications are good, but the forces in opposition, forces which are increasingly feeding off the modest dimes and dollars left over from the monolithic big expenses of daily life, are still strong.


[1] Health insurance was no proof against financial disaster either -- 70% of bankrupts, Warren tells us, had health insurance in place at the time of the health crisis that took them down. The safety net wasn't a net -- it was cotton candy, big and impressive and expensive, but without enough substance.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Approaching the runway ... sorta

As the year winds down, we remember his accomplishments.

Well, jump up and sing!

Paul Krugman passes on a choice piece of good news via his blog:
November 15, 2008, 7:27 am
Change it’s hard to believe in...

...because it’s such good news. Elizabeth Warren, expert on personal bankruptcy, crusader against credit card industry lobbyists, and founder of the extremely useful blog Credit Slips, to be a member of the bailout oversight board.

Elections have consequences.
Warren has been researching and documenting why the middle class has been taking it on the chin for 20 years. That's you and me, folks.
Distinguished law scholar Elizabeth Warren teaches contract law, bankruptcy, and commercial law at Harvard Law School. She is an outspoken critic of America's credit economy, which she has linked to the continuing rise in bankruptcy among the middle-class. Series: "UC Berkeley Graduate Council Lectures"
Her must-see online talk "The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class", is entertaining as well as sobering. If you view it by way of Miro (a very good video portal) you can save a copy for yourself and your friends. Have them over for popcorn and pizza, make a night of it.


[Crossposted at the Galloping Beaver]

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gotta hide it better than that, NYT -- "Judge Rules Against White House in E-Mail Case"

New York Times Technology section? Yeah, that's the place to slip in a seriously important political story.
More In Technology

* Judge Rules Against White House in E-Mail Case
* Midway Games Reports Loss
* Sirius XM Takes $4.8 Billion Charge Related to Merger
* Comparing YouTube and Hulu
* VMware Lends Virtual Hand to Mobile Phone Crowd
Okay, to be a little kinder I must say this story came to me today in E-mail, as part of the Tech section update. It was actually printed in the NYT paper version: "A version of this article appeared in print on November 11, 2008, on page A19 of the New York edition.

Frankly, a lot of people never read past the headlines, so how likely are they to make it to A19? So here I am to help them out. Read on:

Judge Rules Against White House in E-Mail Case

Published: November 10, 2008

A federal judge ruled against the Bush administration in a court battle over the White House’s problem-plagued e-mail system. The judge, Henry H. Kennedy Jr. of the United States District Court, said two private groups, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics and the National Security Archive, may pursue their case as they press the administration to recover millions of possibly missing electronic messages. The administration had argued that the courts did not have the power to order the White House to retrieve any missing messages. A document obtained by The Associated Press in August said the White House was missing as many as 225 days of e-mail dating to 2003 and invited companies to bid on a project to recover them.

I am not sure how the administration could argue that the missing E-mails, as part of the day to day documentation of national business and covered by the rules of document retention, can just disappear.

But here's another question: suppose John Doe does something presumably under the orders of the White House, and later no proof can be found that he had instructions. If he ends up in court for something related to this task, I wonder what happens then? Can he be given a free ride on the basis of the missing mail? in which case can the White House be held liable for his actions, in the absence of proof they had authorized it? Worse, what nest of undocumented promises and undertakings lie in wait for the next administration?

However -- they say the net never forgets. I wonder how many White House emails and documents will surface in the next generation, like imperfectly secured bodies from Long Island Sound?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Midpoint...

The midpoint between caring and crime is not care, but crime.

The midpoint between a truth and a lie is not truth, but another lie.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

New pres coming? A word of caution from "User Friendly"

Our favorite tech and computer geek J.D. "Illiad" Frazer contemplates the change of US administrations, with an oft-neglected consideration:

See him every day here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Stolen Quote of the Day -- ane pising contest

From Brad deLong
Inside the Tent...

Youth: Why do the Democrats let Joe Lieberman caucus with them?

Me: You know, it is the old Lyndon Johnson saying: better to have him inside the tent pissing out rather than outside the tent pissing in.

Youth: But he's inside the tent pissing in!

November 04, 2008 at 07:42 PM


Rating: Three Laughing Bostons

Cup of Tears

-- The Cup of Tears--

Remember this feeling.
Remember this feeling.

Put this cup in a safe sound chamber in your heart

Bring it out often,
Bring it out to hold it,
wash in it, pour it out, bathe,
-- clean water
after a long and dirty day of work.

Call it the cup of tears.

Tears wash and comfort us,
Come together when we weep together.
They stream together like small rivers
Becoming great rivers,
Becoming oceans.

In this salt ocean, no borders
No barbwire walls.
From endless grateful faces
This ocean streams out.

Hold this cup in your heart.
Bring it out often.

Hate and hurry drive us
Like pitiless hornets
Greed and worry draw us
Like cheap treasures
Of a swindler’s tent,

But the brimming cup of tears
You filled tonight from the fountain
Is proof against them.

Put this cup in a safe sound chamber in your heart
Take it out often --

Every bright blessed day,
Every dark sacred night.

November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Steal the US election? Why would they want to?

Cheney, Rove and Co. having sucked the last blood from the veins of a tottering USA, exactly why would they want to stay in power? My guess is, fearing they might possibly win this election despite their track record, they picked a VP candidate so patently impossible that they hoped no-one could possibly find her acceptable.

Under the care of the Democrats, how long will it take the US to rebuild enough wealth to be worth burgling? I think the kleptocrats now realize they went too far with their astonishing greed, and figure that even an exemplary president will probably need longer than a single term. I don't expect to see serious efforts to return until 2016.

The tragedy of robocalls...

From wonderful Wondermark.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

On Worship -- Sunday sermonette


A block from my office beside a deserted railway track the geese built their nest again, to incubate their eggs. Geese take turns, I understand, one parent flying away to feed and rest while the other sits like a painted carving. But I couldn’t tell the difference between these two. Sometimes both were there. And this spring they had acquired a handmaiden- a brown mallard duck, always somewhere near them.

As usual, the word had gotten around the office quickly, and the gifts began. We wandered out there at coffee time, taking bread crusts, a dish of grain, a bowl of water. And the geese ate the food and came to know us. Oh, they hissed and threatened if we came close, but their idea of “close” shrank to 4 or 5 feet.

Around them lay a blasted wilderness of tractor-squeezed mud and struggling willows, scorched cattails. The factory across the way sometimes sends out synthetic fumes, and the city sprays for purple loosestrife, which makes it hard for the cattails to recover. But in the midst of this raddled marshland, these sober parents sat on five cream coloured eggs.

“Where are you going?” asked my workmates as I went out the door at coffee time. “The geese are back, I’m taking them some food.” And everyone nodded that this was perfectly natural, even when I came back to the office, muddy to the ankles.

People have not forgotten worship.


In my 1929 Oxford, next to worship the entry reads “(archaic) worthiness, merit, recognition given or due...honour and respect,” and further on, “...a reverent homage or service paid to God.” The derivation given is Old English weordhscipe, (worth + SHIP). Is worship merely the recognition of that which is worthy?

The words worth and value and attention come together and meet like three roads in this question. If something is worthy, I value it. If something is of value, I pay attention to it. How can I possibly value something if I never attend to it?

Where we choose to put our attention is important. Jesus made mention of this when he said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” This was both a reassurance and a veiled warning, because what you value, what you find worthy, where your attention is fixed, will draw you to it. A blessing, but also a curse if you have chosen to treasure some dead thing or thing which never lived. This is the reward of idolatry - you get what you ask for.

Now, we do not have complete control over where our attention goes. Sometimes our attention is required by the task at hand. When driving, we watch the road and ignore the sunset. Working, we see paper and ink and pay less attention to living people. When planning a factory or iron mine, we might stray so deep into paper plans that we do not see the green land or the living workers at all, except as inefficient impediments to the pure function of the plan we have made. To plan purely, in the abstract, is a needful skill, but we can err by going into it and trying to live there.

When I go out to feed the geese, the pinpoint reality of their endangered nest easily penetrates the fog of the abstract. They are not “environmental issues” or “biodiversity” or “native fauna” - they are Gihh’brrruk and his mate Ka’dthsss, whom I knew from last year and will see next year, sitting on their nest doing a job of work. My heart was glad to see them, and I lay bread before them.


A stained glass window is one of the grand accomplishments of Western art. At its best a rose-window is an intricate miracle by day and after dark, a burning quilt giving comfort to the deep night itself. Each of the square-cut pieces of glass that make it up transmits a single colour, but together they speak a message greater than any of them alone.

My geese are one pane of glass. So are the cattails nearby, each slender leaf spiraling upwards. The white moon among the stars is a pane of this glass, and the dawn. High school wrestlers practicing their art in panting silence, or myself moving with the smooth movements of my bicycle, so like flying. Music is there, too, and ice. Flame.

When we turn our face to any of these, in delight or rapt attention, we give worship. But the delight does not come from them, the awe is not due to them - it passes thru them as thru a pane of glass. When we look worshipfully, we open to this awe and collect it as leaves collect sunlight. But the opening is the necessary part.

“Where your treasure is…” I can pay attention to my goose, my bicycle, the moon – I coose where to aim my attention. I choose how I look, at varying depths of involvement, deep or shallow.

If I am walking downtown, I do not (often) walk into people. Even if I am reading a book, the corner of my vision sees what’s ahead and responds to avoid collisions. But while I am doing that, I am not aware of other people, except as obstacles.

Now, if I look up and see my favourite aunt from Calgary bearing down on me like a four-masted schooner, my attention sharpens and I begin to see her completely, not the way I saw the anonymous people on the street. Her facial expressions, health, movements and expressions - all will be seen and noted before I drag her off for supper and an evening of catching up.

Now, suppose I looked up and saw instead my own true love. Not only would all my perceptions intensify and deepen as they did above, but the rest of the world would fade and fall silent.

Worship, truest worship, requires attention at the deepest level we can manage. To respond in automatic routine even to the loveliest theology is not that. To sit absorbed by the broken colours of a ruined brick wall, is. The first is idolatry or ignorance, the second, prayer.

Idolatry and Art

What is idolatry? Simply, idolatry is the error of stopping too soon.

An old friend practices tae kwon do. He told me that when he learned to punch, he was taught that he had to aim beyond the surface he intended to strike. It was only in this way that he could apply full force.

Worship may not seem much like tae kwon do, but in the same way, worship can never stop at the surface it is aiming at. If someone attends solely to stamp collecting, or raising his children, or gardening, or nuclear disarmament, then those concerns are idols and when he is parted from them he is devastated. But when he strikes through them, aiming just beyond each, then each one becomes a window to the invisible source, and attention given to each is true worship - yea, even unto golfing.

Art is worshipful because to do real art one must look. Focused attention is absolutely required, and leads one into unguessed perceptions. When I began painting again a few years ago, I learning this all over again. The colours in the human face, the form of a tree, things we all know, are unique landscapes of colour and form. They are complex in infinite regress, their perfections deepening as attention deepens. Nothing the artist puts on paper is any more than a child’s scrawl compared to the object of his attention.

The real is complex, perfect and surprising. But many of us spend too much time in the unreal, which is predictable, simplistic, boring. Cartoon drawings, contrived political turf wars, racial prejudgements - our prejudices trim the branches off the trees by ignoring them, and then we try to claim a forest is only an assemblage of fence posts. A forest of fence posts is the natural result of not looking. Not valuing. Not worshiping.

The true mystics knew this absolutely. They looked, and loved. In our day, Thomas Merton loved the ground he trod, the morning grasses bent by heavy dew, the mockingbirds of Kentucky. That love shows like windows of raindrenched colour through all his writings. Rumi, 800 years earlier, wrote just as easily about food and drink and lovers and warriors and frogs and mice, as he did about the nameless formless Beloved, and just as intimately. And Jesus came too, eating and drinking. “Will you have another glass of wine?” “Fill it up!”

The Emperor’s Robes

Here is a secret. When God willed in the beginning to be present and knowable, to be seen, it was necessary that God be clothed somehow. Absolute Being without limit or constraint, how could such a One be seen? And so a king’s wardrobe of many cloaks was sewn and embroidered, each of which displayed some part of the truth of that One, and yet concealed some other part, a necessary falsehood so that other truths might be seen.

He clothed himself in geese. In bicycles and Greek amphoras, in the smell of the first frost, or the wet leaves beaten into the gutter. So that He might be seen, He clothed himself in us.

To know this is to begin to worship.

Stolen Quote of the Day -- Popularity Contest FAIL

From the NYT this morning:
We also have to pay far more attention to public diplomacy and outreach. Our Afghanistan and Pakistan policy is a mess in part because Osama bin Laden’s approval rating in Pakistan (34 percent) is almost double America’s (19 percent). You know we need a new approach when we lose a public relations competition to a fugitive mass murderer.
--Nicholas Kristof

Rating: Four laughing Bostons

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Where would you be if you had nowhere to be?

I was pleased with this comment I wrote over at Echidne's place, so I thought I would transplant it here, too. The discussion ["The Concept of Non-Ownership" (by Phila), Saturday, November 01, 2008] was of interest too, I strongly recommend it.


A McMansion is not really bigger than a smaller house, it is just more enclosed air, yielding a feeling of distance in a space whose usable dimensions are not much changed. Not having the power of flight, humans can only use the ground level of the lofty living and dining rooms. A big kitchen is nice, but who needs room enough for five pin bowling? And the extra cost (and taxes?) are at the expense of a very small amount of builder's time and materials.

I am looking and hoping for a style of house design drawing inspiration from ship living quarters. For instance, at a very small cost in floor space, all interior walls could be storage space -- double walled cupboards everywhere, better sound muffling, less fighting over hanger room.

Second, the disappearance of public space. More and more there are no places to be, except on someone's sufferance. I read an interesting online article last year about how libraries are becoming the de facto commons (and often daytime shelters) for people with no home, no money, and not enough legitimacy to hang out at the mall. You can read it here:

Food, clothing and shelter are necessities, of course, but you can do without them for certain lengths of time. But someplace to be -- that's as essential as air.

I once read a story about a world where all land was owned and walled, and there was a caste of nomadic homeless who lived and traveled on the tops of the walls, there being nowhere else they could lawfully be. This may not actually happen as depicted, but increasingly it is the case in fact.


Friday, October 31, 2008

The manner to which they are accustomed -- Stolen Quote of the Day

What to wear for Halloween? From the Slate overview of the daily papers for Oct. 31 2008, here:
Maybe wear a suit and monocle and go as a corporate fat cat? The Journal fronts a good analysis of how the banks now being bailed out by the government owe roughly $40 billion in unpaid executive pay, bonuses and pensions. While the Treasury Department is putting restrictions on what executives at bailed out banks can earn now, it won't affect these debts. In the case of some companies, the debts to executives are greater than their entire pension program.
The whole story, in the Wall Street Journal, is here. [subscription]

And, we might ask, how safe are those programs?
Here are the amazing numbers: the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the government agency that is supposed to protect the private pension system, recently estimated that the amount of money currently owed to cover pension liabilities is $450 billion; 851 pension plans are underfunded by at least $50 million. United Airlines may have been the biggest pension default ever but we’re looking at a looming financial catastrophe: The PBGC, which takes over defaulted plans, had a $23 billion deficit in 2004 and that’s just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Part of the crisis stems from the 1990s collapse of the stock market and low interest rates (which keeps returns on bonds low).
That was from 2005. I can't imagine it has gotten any better since then. Anxiety much?

UPDATE: An interesting chart from here:

To make the obvious more obvious: have a peek:

Why is it that the party that hates big government seems to end up taking over the obligations of companies who don't want the fuss and bother of keeping their promises to their retirees? Or are Republican regimes just bad for business?

MORE UPDATE: In reading the 2007 report from the PBGC, I note this paragraph:
The table below shows the ten largest plan termination losses in PBGC’s history. Nine of the ten have come since 2001.
These defaulting companies and the years of plan termination are (about a third of the way down the page):

Pan American Air, 1991, 1992 [business collapsed 1991]
Trans World Airlines, 2001 [renamed TWA Airlines LLC in 2001, acquired by American Airlines in 2001]
LTV Steel, 2002, 2003, 2004 [filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on December 29, 2000, merged with Weirton Steel to form the International Steel Group.]
National Steel, 2003 [filed for bankruptcy in 2002, sold to US Steel in 2003]
Bethlehem Steel, 2003 [filed for bankruptcy 2001, acquired by the International Steel Group 2003]
US Airways, 2003, 2005 [Still in business, merged with America West in 2005]
Weirton Steel, 2004 [bankrupt 2008]
Kaiser Aluminum, 2004, 2007 [Still in business. "In 2005, it recorded revenues of roughly $1.1 billion and employed more than 2,000 people..." Wiki]
Delta Air Lines, 2006 [Still in business. Filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2005,emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2007. "(Delta's) bankruptcy exit strategy was vastly different from that of United in that it expanded its way out of bankruptcy, rather than retrenching " --Wiki]
Times are tough, okay. So I am wondering: why not just have the PBGC take over ALL pensions, since that would probably save money, time and effort (not to say anxiety) in the long run?


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sarah Palin is a Marxist!


In her own words...from last week!
"...And Alaska—we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs. Our state constitution—it lays it out for me, how I’m to conduct business with resource development here as the state C.E.O. It’s to maximize benefits for Alaskans, not an individual company, not some multinational somewhere, but for Alaskans.

- Sarah Palin, from "Letter from Alaska: The State of Sarah Palin" by Philip Gourevitch in New Yorker Magazine (September 22, 2008)

H/T to Maxwell's House

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Duh, that sounds logical." -- Stolen Quote of the Day

From here, a quote from Ann Althouse which has it all -- rhythm, memorability, and amazing insightfulness, sorta:

"You know, just because the thing I saw wasn't there doesn't mean there wasn't something there that I didn't see."

I stand in awe.

Score : two laughing Bostons

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

First it was LoLCats -- now THIS!

Every morning as I gnaw on a cup of coffee and pry my eyes open with a stir stick, I check out a whole string of online funnies. From Doonesbury to Calvin and Hobbes, to this.

Here's a little sample. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Quicker than a firehose

George Orwell told us, "Arnold Bennett was hardly exaggerating when he said that in the English-speaking countries the word “poetry” would disperse a crowd quicker than a fire-hose." It's ironic that when I was looking for a photo for this piece, I found this 1912 San Diego picture of police using a real fire hose to disperse potential poets -- or free-speakers, anyway.

I taught a course on poetry and its creation a few years ago. Going through my files [1] last week I ran across a single sheet of hints and quotes and advice which I had provided to my students on the first evening. Here it is, without all the formatting and fonts, for your consideration:
”Poetry is the elegant distillation of understanding into language.”

The purpose is communication.

The intended audience need not be large.

The dictionary and thesaurus are your friends.

Waiting for inspiration does not work – or not often. Write every day, it primes the pump.

Read read read

Read out loud, to hear the music of poetry. (This is especially useful with your own stuff.)

Good writing gets better the more you read it.

Experimentation can create new and significant stuff. Or not.

Some people say rhyme and structure are passé. They are wrong.

Writing without editing is not writing.

Recognize what is good in your stuff, but be ready to edit with a machete. However, wait at least a year before burning any piece.

People make poetry just as trees make leaves. There is always more.

Write passionately, edit ruthlessly.

Avoid clichés like the plague!
Poetry is not a frill -- witness the habit of dictators to kill or imprison poets.

You think they do it as a hobby -- either the poets or their persecutors? No, having tamed the press and the novelists and the theologians and the usual avenues by which people protest their oppression, sooner or later only poets, musicians and clowns and tellers of fairy tales remain as potent speakers -- and targets.

The mind that is accustomed to reading poetry is a mind that can get behind the scenes and see how the scenery of society is built, and what the canvas and paint are covering.


[1] Euphemism: "going through my files" = "feebly struggling to unearth my office, in the manner of a toddler excavating the Great Pyramid of Giza with a teaspoon".

Friday, October 17, 2008

Stolen Quote of the Day

Quote stolen from Angry Bear:
He's just shrinking the economy down down to the size where he can drown it in the bathtub.

Don | Homepage | 10.16.08 - 7:02 pm | #

Rated: Three Laughing Bostons

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jack's chicken simile

Hoisted from comments at Angry Bear, Jack speaks his mind regarding the current financial crisis:
[someone asked] *** why should the "economy" suffer because the financial industry can't get out of its own way? we still have everything we need to make the things we need.***

[and someone else commented] "There is no doubt that the US is wealthy enough to do that. The problem is how. Regrettably, perhaps I fear that the Communist solution of taking all the right wing jerks out and shooting them is neither practical nor likely to work"

[and then Jack tells us] These are related points and one begins to answer the other by trying to answer itself. Has anyone noticed that in spite of the crisis and all of the hand wringing surrounding it here and every where the foxes remain in the coop? First they tore the place to smithereens bloating themselves to the point of regurgitation. The chickens are devastated. The place is a shambles.

Even the eggs have been devoured. The farmer is about ready to sell the farm. Does he think to shoot the fox and build a more secure fence? No, because some how the fox has managed to convince the world that the chickens were all to blame in the first place and the farmer was an accomplice to the deed. "Buy more chickens. They'll lay more eggs. I'll be happy to guard the place so that this doesn't happen again." Who better to guard the coop than the experts who know best how to vanquish it to begin with?

Jack | 10.16.08 - 3:41 pm | #
Thanks Jack. Looking back over the last eight years, I search in vain for evidence that the sucking dry of the US economy was not deliberate. Can any of you offer evidence on that account?


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Texas bans fish pedicures

From Practical Fishkeeping, this breaking story:
The US state of Texas has banned the use of fish in providing pedicures over health and safety concerns... fish pedicures - where customers pay to have the dead skin nibbled off their feet by small tropical fish - are no longer allowed in the state.

The Department said that, since the same fish are used to clean the skin of multiple people, that there are concerns that the practice could spread infections.


A number of salons and beauty centres have reportedly purchased the fish and now need to rehome them.

The use of fish to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis is popular in Turkey, where warm pools are stocked with a small cyprinid fish called Garra rufa, which nibbles flakes of skin from the body...

However, most of the fish pictured in the news reports covering the live fish pedicures in the US have not been Garra rufa. They have in fact been juvenile Tilapia - a species of cichlid which is commonly farmed for food and reaches a size of 30cm or more.

I don't know where to start, in wondering who to be sorry for. The poor fish needing to be rehomed? The substitution of inferior Tilapia for the real deal? The poor psoriasis sufferers, reduced to not being nibbled...

Hey, wait! The psoriasis sufferers can rehome the homeless Garra rufa.

Problem solved.


The morning after the night before

Well, the Canadian election is over and the Conservatives have spent about $300 million of our money in order to gain a slightly larger minority, by dint of starting two months early, escaping election spending limits by mailing out flyers at public expense and attacking the other guy for two years before formally breaking their own law by calling an election a year early clever strategies.

I am ashamed impressed at the political skills of the leader of my country, and will watch with suspicion interest to see what further dismantling of our strong protections and public services initiatives he undertakes.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"It's more important then the beating of your heart..."

Why don't people care about politics?

People who care about politics are terribly frustrated with people who don't. Over on Galloping Beaver this morning Dana was having another meltdown, because he sees how important these decisions are, and no-one else seems to be paying sufficient attention.

I was reminded of part of "Stranger In A Strange Land", where Gillian, a nurse, tells her boyfriend, a journalist, that she pays no attention to politics.

"Its nearly as important as the beating of your heart," he protests.

"I don't pay attention to that, either." Gillian replies.

So much of the gap in caring has to do with a gap in fine-grained knowledge. We are a highly unusual bunch (by "we" I mean the habitual online news-readers and bloggers.) We follow the information, thrash it out among ourselves and come to an understanding of the bits that we can trust versus the confetti and fog. We think and write all the time.

I can follow politics in part because I am retired. And because I find it more rewarding than other pursuits. And because I have long been concerned about social/economic changes.

The vast majority of Canadians are either

-- too young to care (I didn't care much about this stuff till I hit my late 20s)
-- too old or ill or impaired to cope with such a data stream. This includes legitimately stupid people -- why does no-one ever write about this segment of the population?
-- working, raising kids, juggling debts, finishing their Masters thesis, studying the migration and breeding patterns of the Atlantic codfish, inventing a better mousetrap etc.
-- already solidly partisan, for good, bad or nonsensical reasons, and not amenable to changing except slowly or under transformative conditions

This is perfectly natural. After all, our ears and eyes and noses are only a few ounces of our total weight. Why should the eyes and noses of the body politic be any bigger?

We blog because we care about this stuff, but it's easy to feel we're shouting in the wilderness. Bees gather tiny amounts of nectar, but together they fill the hive with gallons of honey. So do we.

The real question is, how do we get our honey to the general public? The blogosphere is quite new, so this channel of the transmission of knowledge is still not in place.

But I will tell you one thing for sure -- journalists hang around the blogosphere, seek out the more trustworthy and idea-rich areas, knock over good ideas in a dark alley and abscond with their loot. I have seen story after story appear first in the blogs, only to surface the next day in the news.

Journalists need ideas, and the more work they can leave to others the happier they are, because increasingly they are overworked or working freelance.

Going forward, this movement of stuff from blog to mainstream can only increase. I look forward to it.


Monday, October 13, 2008



I was taught, by example, how to vote. My parents got up in the morning and dressed as though for church. The day was somehow quieter than other days, even in a household with five kids.

We drove to the polling site and while one parent went in to vote, the other would ride herd on us in the car, but it never took much effort to keep us quiet. It was voting day.

Formal, sober, quietly determined, everyone in my hometown migrated to the polls, and we kids were taught that the actual voting was both a purely personal choice, and a secret. The secret might be shared, but it was uncouth to ask "How did you vote?"

It was never said outright, I think, but we were shown that the vote was sacred: "set apart for a special purpose". My parents treasured their vote, it was at once a right, and a privilege, and an obligation.

To add one voice to the larger voice of the nation, and together say in some mystical way what path the nation will take, is in its own way a religious action, full of faith and determination and patience in the face of a flurry of mere arithmetic.

To choose not to vote is an act of negligence or even despair – both of them equally undermine our shared nation.

I vote for meat on my neighbour’s plate, not mine. For the health of my neighbour’s children, the peace of our streets, the knowledge in our libraries and the significance and beauty of our images and songs. I vote for the strength of the whole, not the benefit of one walled garden at the cost of a wilderness outside.

Arithmetic is the enemy of the vote. The vote is more than a grain of sand on a scale, it is an action in which citizens make themselves manifest as a part of the whole. To neglect it is to become a political ghost, moving voiceless through the world.

An old woman who told stories, who was prisoner of the Nazis, who left her Dutch home for a new home and language and land, told this story:
"Tell me the weight of a snowflake," a mouse asked a wild dove.

"Nothing more than nothing," the dove answered.

"In that case I must tell you a marvelous story," the mouse said. "I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow. Not heavily, not a raging blizzard, no -- just like in a dream without any violence the snow silently fell.

Since I had time, I counted the snowflakes setting on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952 when the next snowflake dropped onto the branch - "nothing more than nothing" as you say - the branch broke off."

Having said that the mouse went away.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why we don't keep wolverines as pets...

This is lifted from comments over on Hullabaloo, where they were discussing Karl Rove and a couple articles about him. (Spite Politics, October 11, 2008)

The discussion is asking, why is it that Rove's tactics aren't decried by the American people. One or two writers think that it's because many Americans have embraced the principle of win-at-any-cost, and so they don't see Rove's behaviour as anything unusual.

I had a different take:
I have wondered for years how to hold these amoral *****'s to account. Because normally, people do it with shared recognition and condemnation of wrongdoing, and the wrongdoer either is ashamed, or has to stop doing whatever it is, because his misdoings have been revealed.

Rove, however, is no more subject to shame than an image in a mirror or an actor on the TV screen. No matter how angry people are at the actor, he won't, can't, respond to their dirty looks.

How many years does it take for the average person to learn not to scold TV actors? Roughly 0.00757, I would guess. People who don't stop scolding TV actors, who address paintings as though they were going to answer back, have mental problems usually,

So the widespread right-wing ability to disregard all shaming has taught most people to stop trying. It has formed a kind of armor. Left-wingers, still subject to shame, are perversely both held to a higher standard and more successfully scolded, giving the appearance of weakness.

We scold our dog for misbehaviour, but not a wolverine. The wolverine is far stronger, true, but that may be why we prefer dogs. That we haven't realized we have wolverines in office is our next step forward.

One final point -- our governmental wolverines ignore dirty looks, but are keenly aware of real threats to their position. These people and institutions are preemptively targeted long before they are in a position to muzzle the wolverines. One example is the US Justice Department. In Canada, the elections agency, the nuclear energy agency and freedom of information (hah!) were some of the targets.

As for the Little Guy -- well, Mr. Smith would never make it to Washington. His reputation would be smeared in the tabloids and on Fox before he latched his front door.

I am hoping that Mr. Obama will, almost at once, put all the watchdogs back in action and fund them to the hilt and set protections around them and quietly, soberly dig the wolverines out of their dens.

Friday, October 10, 2008

...but like, America never like calls Spain, so...

David Malki !'s Wondermark is a weird but wonderful strip. This one is a bit more topical than most of his, which range from darkly whimsical to disturbing. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Weird Thrift Shop Goodies -- October Edition

Thrift shop goodies come in all shapes and sizes, and my house has ENOUGH of them, thanks very much. But some cannot be left only to memory, they need to be photographed and shared.

An Economic Horse -- who else but an economist would paint a Scandanavian horse with sigmas, ampersands, percent signs and a round thing that looks like an "e"? And then put glasses on it? Must be one of Paul Krugman's grade school art projects, a rare find!

An infinity mirror. Whosoever has seen it need not know anything else about the 70s.

Snake saint. When I saw this figurine on the shelf, I knew it must be some kind of saint. But, two snakes? Thank heaven her name was on the base -- she is Saint Verdiana, a recluse who lived in a sealed cell for her whole adult life with only two snakes for company. Apparently when she died the people at the monastery tried to catch the snakes, one got away, and the other's skeleton is still at the monastery.

It's nearly Hallowe'en, but I am most scared by whoever designed this legitimately scary Samurai Witch.

Bee Box -- not very weird, but pretty, this gold paper box has an exquisitely molded bee on the top.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Vote Strategically -- thank heavens for this website

I want to vote strategically. In my riding the colour is solid orange, nothing else comes close. So if I were voting strategically I could vote NDP and ensure they keep their seat if I really hate the other contender and dread being the one to upset the vote. Or I could vote for any of the others and give them a bit of a lagniappe of vote numbers and federal funding, even if I actually liked my NDP representative.

If I were a lone Green in a Conservative riding, my vote would not affect the Conservative seat, but would give the Greens some brownie points and a smidgen of federal money in the following years.

But how do I know what strategy is most likely to achieve what I want? Or know how close a contest it is in my riding?

Here's a site that gives you a head's up on parties' past performance and minute by minute poll standings in your riding, and how that might effect your choice moving the federal government as a whole in the direction you think is right.

Here's their video.

Democrasy. We has it, one pixl at a time.

Monday, October 6, 2008

With friends like this...

Much remains to be done for mental health -- and you're in the perfect position to screw it up.

Hurrah, it's Mental Illness Awareness Week and amidst a few glimmers of hope (like the US decision to require parity between mental and other type health care) the huge job of helping people with faulty ideation, anger issues, profound lack of impulse control and a profoundly crippled ability to exhibit compassion remains largely untouched.

Pardon? Oh sorry, I should have been more precise. I'm talking about so-called ordinary people, not the officially "mentally ill."

At least half the affliction of those who suffer from mental illness comes from the ignorance and spite and misplaced helpfulness of the muggles of the psych world.

Assuming you would like to do better, how can you tell if you're one of the not-yet-treated majority of psych muggles? Here's a checklist.


1. Do you deny the condition? You can be situational and deny your friend has X problem, or you can try pre-emptive denial and loudly proclaim that one or all psychiatric conditions were just made up by the drug companies.

2. Do you deny the diagnosis? Only crazy people have mental illness, and since you and your friend are quietly drinking coffee and no-one is frothing on the floor or dueling invisible aliens, your friend is just mistaken (probably led astray by his money-grubbing psychologist or some goofy article in Oprah Magazine).

3. Do you offer unhelpful advice, by telling your friend to do things which, in fact, are prevented by the condition itself? Do you tell your depressed friend to cheer up, or your bipolar friend to just relax? Do you irritably tell your ADHD friend to just pay attention? Or (for bonus points) do you tell him, whatever the problem is, to "just suck it up"?

4. When your afflicted friend doesn't take your advice, do you write him off because "obviously he doesn't care, or else he would try harder."

5. Your friend, despite your help, has gotten a diagnosis and is being treated. Do you (finally!) research his condition, his treatment and medications and urge him to abandon them and do something else (like join a better church, eat lots of vitamins or follow your advice?).

6. Do you fire, or fail to hire your friend because "well, you never know"? Ditto for having him over for coffee, going camping, part of the bowling team, or taking your family to his place for a BBQ. Tell yourself he needs some time to recover and you don't want to upset him.

7. Do you blame your friend (at this point probably not a friend anymore) for doing things, large or small, that "only a crazy person would do"? Whether it's a bedroom with a pyramid of 37,128 cleaned and stacked Heinz baked bean tins, or singing "Jerusalem" off key all night long, or self-medicating with cannabis, all these things are symptoms -- but do you define them as crimes?

8. Do you believe your friend (who deliberately didn't take your wonderful advice) ought to be in prison for his willful collection of 37,128 bean cans, plus all that singing? ("bring me my bow of burning gold" is definitely suspicious.)

9. Do you gripe about all the crime around these days, and all the crowding in prisons, without noting that your friend is now one of the one in ten prisoners suffering mental illness (2007 figures)?

10. And finally, do you really truly believe that of the several hundred people you know, you can be sure you know which ones have never struggled with mental illness?
Of every 100 people, 20 have come through such a struggle or will do so sometime in their lives. Look at the five people at your dinner table and ask, of these people I love, is there one here who needs my help? Would they tell me, if they did?

How can I start now, to be ready to help when I am needed?

No one could have predicted the collapse...

... except this guy

You know those guys who want the ten commandments posted in courthouses? maybe they should tack them up on Wall Street and down on Pennsylvania Avenue: Here's an "op-ed" on the sin of Stealing, a hardy perennial:
For to steal is nothing else than to get possession of another's property wrongfully, which briefly comprehends all kinds of advantage in all sorts of trade to the disadvantage of our neighbor... to steal is to signify not only to empty our neighbor's coffer and pockets, but to be grasping in the market, in all stores, booths, wine- and beer-cellars, workshops, and, in short, wherever there is trading or taking and giving of money for merchandise or labor.

...When a manservant or maid-servant does not serve faithfully in the house, and does damage, or allows it to be done when it could be prevented, or otherwise ruins and neglects the goods entrusted to him, from indolence idleness, or malice, to the spite and vexation of master and mistress, and in whatever way this can be done purposely (for I do not speak of what happens from oversight and against one's will), you can in a year abscond thirty, forty florins, which if another had taken secretly or carried away, he would be hanged with the rope. But here you [while conscious of such a great theft] may even bid defiance and become insolent, and no one dare call you a thief.


Furthermore, in the market and in common trade likewise, this practice is in full swing and force to the greatest extent, where one openly defrauds another with bad merchandise, false measures, weights, coins, and by nimbleness and queer finances or dexterous tricks takes advantage of him; likewise, when one overcharges a person in a trade and wantonly drives a hard bargain, skins and distresses him. And who can recount or think of all these things? To sum up, this is the commonest craft and the largest guild on earth, and if we regard the world throughout all conditions of life, it is nothing else than a vast, wide stall, full of great thieves.

Therefore they are also called swivel-chair robbers, land- and highway-robbers, not pick-locks and sneak-thieves who snatch away the ready cash, but who sit on the chair [at home] and are styled great noblemen, and honorable, pious citizens, and yet rob and steal under a good pretext.


This is, in short, the course of the world: whoever can steal and rob openly goes free and secure, unmolested by any one, and even demands that he be honored. Meanwhile the little sneak-thieves, who have once trespassed, must bear the shame and punishment to render the former godly and honorable. But let them know that in the sight of God they are the greatest thieves, and that He will punish them as they are worthy and deserve.
--Martin Luther, c. 1530, The Large Catechism


Saturday, October 4, 2008

THE REAL MAJORITY -- a poster for the rest of us

ABC stands for "Anyone But Conservative". If they'd quit biting each other's ankles, we could have a very large lefthanded majority/coalition.

Vote strategic? Heck yes.

The orange leaves are Canadian maple, the green are prairie aspen poplar, and the red are Japanese maple from my neighbour's yard. No blue leaves, so the PQ just got a texture.

It's printed up and in my window this very minute. Happy mailman tomorrow.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Real Pit Bull Shows Why...

...the big boys in Canadian politics didn't want Elizabeth May in the debate.

There are two women debating tonight, two first-time top level debaters. One, Elizabeth May, had to fight for the last few years to get into the debate, the other not only didn't have to fight (despite styling herself a "pit bull with lipstick").but was catapulted onto the US national stage like a shooting star.

They are very different women -- nearly diametrical opposites in every way except their race and their status as moms. To offer one example, Ms. May is a capable debater, devastating but fair, with a couple decades of experience. Ms. Palin is not.

Is either of them a "pit bull"? Perhaps.

See, I actually know something about pit bulls. The highly coloured, slavering pit bull of the yellow press isn't a lot like the real one, a pet whose favorite hobby is sleeping on the sofa. (Don't take my word for it, the New Yorker had a comprehensive article here.)

So when the Republican VP candidate called herself a pit bull with lipstick, that told me that whatever else she might know, she didn't know anything about pit bulls.


Back to humans for a bit. I am typing and listening to the all-candidates's debate. May got the first question and jumped right in with no attack, no talking points, no platitudes but a forty word prescription for defending the Canadian economy by protecting Canadian corporations from foreign buyers, shrinking the dollar to boost our balance of trade for immediate income while initiating a shift our trade and manufacturing sectors to be less dependent on any one country or commodity.

So far, about 40 minutes in, every time May has spoken it has been to throw cold water on Harper's protestations. Meanwhile, Harper is speaking in the voice of a so-tired, 1950s father home from the office after a long day, only to find he has to settle a squabble between the kids.

Meanwhile the "kids" are sounding a lot more grown-up than Harper, all of them countering his vague statements with traceable facts and no weaseling at all so far. There's been a little sniping among Layton, May, and Dion, but mostly they sound exactly like a loose and functional, even cordial coalition on the left. I lift my glass to them all, so far I hear no frothing. Is EMay keeping them honest?


I can't live-blog this tonight, it's been a long day. But let me finish up with the doggies.

I have worked with dogs for thirty years and met scores of pit bulls. In one case I even toured a kennel that had about a dozen pit bulls which, I found out later, were being actively trained and used for fighting at that time. Of about 200 of these dogs only two did not try to climb in my lap and get their ears scratched and their tummies rubbed and lick my face if I wasn't quick enough to prevent it. Your average pit bull is relaxed, confident, friendly and when necessary capable of taking quick action to do what is needed without backing down.

I hope Ms. May doesn't mind me saying that by these qualities, she is the pit bull, not Sarah Palin.

So if Palin is not a pit bull, with or without lipstick, than what dog is she?

Well first, I must say that I do not know a bad breed. But also, I don't know any breeds that don't have regrettable members, and some members of some breeds are bad in predictable ways, so take that into consideration.

Does this portrait remind you of anything?

--beautiful, fluffy and well groomed --
--cute when it suits their purpose, aggressive and noisy when they can manage it --
--brainless in their choice of targets, especially since they don't have the power to carry through with their threats --
--alternately attacking at full speed and hiding under the bed--

This sounds to me like a good description of the only dog that ever attacked me unprovoked. This tiny dog, about seven pounds, would have torn a chunk out of my arm if my coat had been thinner. It was the pet Pomeranian of an old man who carried it inside his sweater wherever he went.

No lipstick in sight, but otherwise all present and accounted for. Enjoy the debate(s).


How to kill a poem in the first line -- join in the fun

I have belonged to an online discussion group called Piffle for about seven of its 10 years. It's like the best lawn party ever, with lovingly discussed topics like food, history, a shared encyclopedic knowledge which elevates trivia to a doctoral level, and always and ever, books. The group is an offshoot of another one, still in progress, called LordPeter. LP has discussed Dorothy Sayers and her detective Lord Peter Wimsey since the late 90s.

Word games turn up often, and this one prompted me to indulge in a little cut-and-paste for your reading pleasure.


How to kill a poem in the first line:

A rhyming dictionary underneath the bough
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread -- and thou
Transcribing in the wilderness --
O wilderness were paradise enow!

Omar Khayyam


In Flanders fields
The poppies blow
And antihistamine sales are way up

John McCrae


Oh, to be in England Now that April's there, and I can flee the IRS tax men
back in the USA.

- Robert Browning


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
One, two, three ... Gee, I guess that's about it.

- Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
I chose the one that got me into town more quickly

- Robert Frost


The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,
In other words, it was a dark and stormy night

- Alfred Noyes

[and further to Noyes...]

The highway man came riding -- riding --
Riding --
Up to the Starbucks door


The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice,
A banner with a strange device,
'MacDonald's 500 metres!'

Longfellow - 'Exelsior!'

[and again, with footnotes!]

The shades of night were falling fast,
And the rain was falling faster,
When through an Alpine village passed
An Alpine village pastor.


Of all the sad words
Of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these:
"Your manuscript does not meet our current needs."

- John Greenleaf Whittier


In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river...
All right, all right, stop knocking on that door!

- S.T. Coleridge


It is an ancient mariner
and he stoppeth one of three
the other two, however, dummied past and scored a try!

Samuel Taylor Coleridge - 'The Ancient Mariner'


Twas many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea,
That there lived a maiden whom you know know, by the name of Annabel Lee.
She was a child and I was a child, in that kingdom by the sea,
But alas, we grew up.

Annabel Lee (Poe)


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun,
And so I ditched her for a prettier one.



Batter my heart, three-personed God,
For *ulp*

(Note found on Dean Ioannus Donne, who died untime'ly from a heart attack)


At the round earth's imagined corners
they really ought to post a traffic light.

(certainly not John Donne)


Let us go then, you and I.
Oh, you're busy? Maybe later.

(probably not T.S. Eliot)


Twice or thrice had I loved thee
before I knew thy face or name.
Then the cops tracked me down.

(also not John Donne)


Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day
but your call is important to us,
please remain on the line,

(not you-know-who either)