Saturday, April 04, 2009

Imaginary Flower

carl 002.jpg
Originally uploaded by actor212
This photo just works on so many strange levels, that I thought I'd blog it. I took it with a Nikon Coolpix 8Mb camera, ran it through the hideous Micro$oft Photo Editor for sharpening and posterizing, and then turned it into a negative of itself.

It was a blue pansy shot in a container outside the NY Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday Cat Kitten Blogging

Mah peeps! Ah bin bizzee dis wintah kippen a eye out foah burds, butt Ah hab a sekrit!

Ah leff a poop in da ole Preznidet's limoh!

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) We're Americans, and you aren't our Queen anymore. We hug. Get over it.
2) We're Americans. We don't have to follow tradition and invite our fiancee's family to the engagement and give them ammunition for the next five decades of reunions!
3) We're Americans. We give gifts that have meaning to the person who receives it, not some stupid bronze statue that's a copy of a crappy statue in Texas.
4) Last week it was vampires in Boston. This week, zombies in Chattanooga. LEAVE BRITNEY ALONNNNNE!!!!!!!!!
6) We're Americans! We can't be bothered figuring shit out on our own!
7) This is your robot. This is your robot on brains. Any questions?
8) Four words if you start bleeding: You're doing it wrong.
9) We're Germans! We like filth!
10) Hell, if he does windows and scoops cat littler, I'll marry him!
11) This is just wrong on so many levels!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Parallel Lines

I think I've told the anecdote in the past here where I was sitting on the subway, and time reversed itself.
If I haven't, forgive me, because the older I get, the more I think I'm right that we're moving backwards in time.
It was early in the Bush the Elder administration. I was sat on a subway train pulling into Times Square station on my way to work. A Wednesday, as I recall.
The train stopped suddenly, went into reverse (which trains never do), stopped again, and inched forward. I made a mental note at the time to check if time had stopped and reversed itself.
I think it has.
Mark Twain famously observed that history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme. It cycles, with each cycle events occur that reflect early events, if not directly, then certainly in shape and form.
This decade, the Oughts, seems to be mirroring another recent decade: the 60s. Only not so much. And in some ways, even more.
You can mark the 60s, I think, by three events: The election and death of our youngest (and first and only Catholic) President, a hated President who followed him in office and ran and escalated a war that no one wanted and was completely unnecessary, an economic boom that had lasted nearly 50 years, and an event that galvanized the world and brought us closer, the Apollo moon missions.
Here, we see an almost didactic opposite decade. It ends with the election of change, and began with a tradgedy not unlike the assassination of JFK in the events of September 11. In between, we've had a despised President who led us into an unwinnable and costly war.
And the event that has galvanized the world is an economic depression. The questions remaining to be resolved are how long and how will it affect the world?
Will this economic meltdown bring America and the world closer together as a family of man or will it drive deep divisions into us all, and polarize the world further?
Signs for both outcomes are around us. History is not kind in this regard: economic crises of this magnitude usually require a war to make them end. The Great Depression did not end until World War II, although the seeds of renewal were planted in the New Deal policies of the Thirties. They might have sprung up anyway, more slowly and perhaps more safely.
The flip side is the heartening news that at least some people have not lost the vision of a world culture. We know the future can only be embraced by humanity when we decide to lay down our arms, at least the ones that can wipe out the entire planet, and work together. A single currency would begin that transition. It would help prevent the large seismic shifts in economic power that history has shown us can be even more antagonistic than even an economic meltdown.
Indeed, those imbalances can cause economic meltdowns.
History cycles, and sometimes it cycles in reverse. Perhaps this time it's possible that a war created the global economic meltdown and that a currency "exchange" (trading into this Chinese scheme) would prevent a worse war.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Whoda Thunk?

So the first "referendum" on President Obama's administration has come and gone. Or, maybe not gone...

A mere 65 votes separated the two candidates late Tuesday in a Congressional contest in upstate New York that received national attention and was widely seen as a referendum on the Obama administration's economic recovery efforts.

With all precincts reporting, the Democrat, Scott Murphy, a 39-year-old venture capitalist, led 77,344 to 77,279 over his Republican rival, Assemblyman James N. Tedisco, 58, for the seat vacated by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Democrat. The turnout was surprisingly strong for a special election.

But 10,055 absentee ballots were issued — and 5,907 received so far, state election officials said — meaning the election cannot be decided until the paper ballots are counted. Moreover, it is likely that the count may not begin until at least April 6, said Bob Brehm, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections.

Republicans held out hope of recapturing the seat in the 20th Congressional District, which is heavily Republican and stretches from the Catskills through the Albany suburbs to the Adirondacks. Democrats, meanwhile, waited to see whether their standard-bearer, a first-time political candidate who campaigned on his support for the federal stimulus package, could pull off an upset.

In that last paragraph, you read the spin for both sides. Democrats recognizing that this is a heavily Republican district, despite the fact that the last incumbent was a Democrat (now-Senator Kirsten Gillibrand). Republicans trying to paint this as some sort of upset because Obama's party did not win a clear majority.
Either way this story ultimately breaks, we've not heard the end of it. Should Murphy lose, the seat will be recontested next year. Should Tedisco lose, he has his Assembly Minority Leader job to fall back on, and can spend the next year campaigning heavily.
Indeed, the district ought to be prepared for that in either case. The district has demonstrated that despite its heavily Republican roots, it can vote Democratic pretty easily. It went for Clinton, Spitzer and Gillibrand in 2006, Obama in 2008, and appears to have chosen Murphy in 2009.
It has been said that there are parts of upstate New York which are so red they make Alabama look liberal. This is not one of those, but it could give Kentucky a run for its red money. Conversely, this district has not shown fealty to the Democrats, either, voting in two rock stars (Clinton and Obama) and electing one Congresswoman by dint of the abject failure of the previous incumbent to comport himself and represent the district with any kind of dignity.
Indeed, the name that stands out in that list of Democrats who won recent votes in the 20th is Eliot Spitzer, but remember he was running after a hugely successful incumbency at Attorney General for the state (he was years ahead of the curve in exposing AIG's fraudulent behaviors) and the governor's seat was vacant.
Clearly, then, the spin for both sides is right and not mutually exclusive. This is a bellwhether election, but not to the degree the Republicans would want us to believe. And this district is heavily Republican, but clearly not married to the idea of voting back in a party that ruined the state and the nation after decades of rule.
At least not just yet.
The real story, in fact, is that Tedisco had a twelve point lead as late as January in this race, and lost it all back and then some to Murphy. This sums up the recent political history of this district in a nutshell.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Agree To Disagree

Say what you want about Obama's policies so far in his term, he's put European leaders in a quandry:

The new American president's debut on the world stage, beginning Tuesday in London in advance of the Group of 20 meeting, is sure to have its share of "Hello!" magazine moments and glamour. He will, after all, meet with Queen Elizabeth II, an established member of the thin upper crust of global personalities and an international rock star in her own right.

But President Obama may be speaking sotto voce and out of the spotlight while in the company of presidents and prime ministers. That's because he is expected to articulate positions and prescriptions that are out of step with leaders from Western Europe, China, Russia, India, and beyond – on issues ranging from the global economic crisis to the war in Afghanistan.

Indeed, Mr. Obama may well find himself in the inverse position from where George W. Bush stood by the end of his White House run. Whereas Mr. Bush enjoyed greater cooperation and like-mindedness with many key foreign leaders, though he remained unpopular with the international public, Obama is expected to encounter an adoring public but a deep skepticism – even resistance – among heads of state.

England has already made conciliatory and supportive comments for Obama ahead of the summit, but the current leader of the European Union, Czech Mirek Topolanek has all but said Obama will drag Europe to damnation.
Pretty strong words from a diplomat, to be sure.
The pressing issue for this summit is the economic crisis. Obama has made some curious statements with respect to "more stimulus" from the European Union. Here's why this sounds sort of flat.
The European Union as a whole has the largest economy in the world, on a par with the US (currency fluctuations can have one or the other as the larger, so it's just easier to call them the same size). The difference is, the European Union has already invested the spending in the areas that Obama wants to port to America: healthcare, infrastructure, advanced energy technologies, green technologies, and so on.
The trade-off Europe makes in its GDP and its economic growth is this: its labor force is about 50% bigger than the United States, yet generates "only" as much revenue as we do. This means that much of its growth potential is tied up in taking care of its citizenry.
This is a good thing, but the downside to this equation is that this hurts them in terms of having a cushion from which to increase spending. Europe has a group commitment to see that deficits for individual states do not exceed 3% of the individual GDP, so deficit spending is not an option. So what little surplus the states may have is going to have to involve cuts to either its population or to its business models (read that as higher taxes), neither of which is an attractive option in a faltering economy.
So you can understand why European leaders are hesitant to jump on the US bandwagon here.
On the other hand, the general populations of the European nations look to Obama in many of the same ways they looked to Bill Clinton. He is a rock star, accorded rock star status by some truly legitimate rock stars like Bono, and as such will have powerful sway over public opinion.
Worse than that for European leaders, lets assume the average European is about as informed as the average American, e.g. they watch the TV news and then extrapolate to their lives. They're going to see Obama browbeating the EU for more spending and they're going to look around and realize that their friends are out of work, their mortgage payments are harder and harder to make, and the roads need repair.
As we've seen in America, if a politician promises to put more money in your pocket, he stands a very good chance of persuading you to his side. Couple this with the general attitude in Europe that governments ought to fear the people, rather than the other way around (this holds truer in "Old Europe," like France), and you have pretty enormous pressure for EU leaders to capitulate and throw money at problems. 
I haven't looked at Obama's specific European recommendations but I suspect he'd call for more green technology spending, particularly in former Soviet republics like the Czech Republic...which is why Topolanek is crying "Uncle." After all, these are the economies with the most potential to grow quickly if cheap energy sources can be made available, manufacturing and industry were already solid performers there. 
I would imagine Obama has asked for a stronger commitment to fighting global warming, although his footing here is unsteady, given the recent American stance on this issue and the Kyoto protocols, as well as the upcoming Copenhagen summit on this very topic. 
Finally, the contention that NATO needs to strengthen its commitment to Afghanistan is tied into helping America out of it economic crisis. After all, every additional euro President Obama can wrest out of the EU is one and a half dollar less he has to spend there.  

Monday, March 30, 2009

15 Books That Will Always Stick With Me

As tagged by Lance Mannion:

1) The Bible - Various authors, even tho One Guy claims sole authorship. Sort of like Mark Rothko's body of work.

2) The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Douglas Adams

3) Hamlet - William Shakespeare (I'm claiming book by dint of the edition I read, which was annotated)

4) A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking

5) Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions - A. Square (Edwin Abbott)

6) An Actor Prepares - Constantin Stanislavski

7) Lateral Thinking - Edward de Bono

8) The Drama of the Gifted Child/Alice Miller; Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child/John Bradshaw I just felt these two needed to be together.

9) Moby Dick - Herman Melville

10) Death Be Not Proud - John Gunther

11) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

12) Bullfinch's Mythology - errrr....Bullfinch, I think. (Thomas. I knew that)

13) Le Morte d'Arthur - Sir Thomas Malory

14) Beowulf

15) The Foundation Trilogy - Isaac Asimov

Political Triage

By now, an awful lot of pundits and opinionistas have weighed in on this story:

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is sending a blunt message to Detroit automakers: To survive _ and win more government help _ they must remake themselves top to bottom. Driving home the point, the White House ousted the General Motors chairman as it rejected GM and Chrysler's restructuring plans.

Obama is set to elaborate on that message Monday when he announces what his White House told reporters over the weekend: Neither GM nor Chrysler submitted acceptable plans to receive additional federal bailout money.

GM chairman Rick Wagoner became the most conspicuous casualty of that decision, forced out Sunday as the White House indicated Detroit must make management and other changes if it hopes to survive _ and that the Obama administration will have a hands-on role in those changes.

Wow. The US government forcing a big company to change it's strategic planning, to the point of forcing the resignation of the COB? Whoda thunk?
GM has been conspicuous in its singular inability to change with the times. Not that any of the major three car companies has exactly been models of being ahead on the curve, for that matter. Car manufacturing requires enormous investments of time, money, energy and industrialization and to be flexible is nearly impossible for firms based on the old "time and motion" studies that created the Henry Ford assembly line in the first place.
The US auto industry IS a model of repetitive stress disorder, however. What the US auto industry needed to be was out front of demand, when in fact, it has always tried to browbeat people with their offerings.
Think about it: ahead of last year's major oil crunch, when oil was only just starting its five-year long upward climb (plenty of time to retool, mind you), what commercials did you see?
Did you see Chrysler/Dodge push compact cars, reminding people that oil prices are hopping and that global warming is coming? Did you see GM push their economy lines? Ford sell us hybrids?
Toyota did. Honda did. Hyundai did. Even Volkswagen did.
To make this mistake once in a lifetime is one thing, but it's not like Detroit hasn't had plenty of warning that oil prices were about to start an inexorable climb to the sky. Indeed, despite the terrible economic collapse, OPEC looks to be aiming for a $50 a barrell price in 2009. That would put us at about 2005 levels, and maybe have gasoline at $2.50 a gallon, maybe $3, by the summer.
In fact, more than thirty years ago, Detroit had the warning that oil was not going to remain the implacably cheap resource it always had been and for people who live and breathe on supply and demand, they somehow missed the fact that India and China would be driving more and using more oil, guaranteeing a permanent rise in prices.
Someone's head had to go if only for blatant incompetence, in other words, much like Jake DeSantis should have left AIG quietly last week.
Too, Obama's team probably senses that the American people, while still largely supportive of his attempts to revitalize the economy, are getting tired of "no-strings attached" reclamation projects. I can't blame Obama much for these. They really started with the Fed's bailouts last year under Bush, which sort of forced Obama to throw good money after bad this year, an allusion he made last Thursday.
So he's fired a warning shot after carefully choosing his target. He could have picked the Chrysler chairman and thrown the merger talks with Fiat out of whack. He could have chosen any banker in the mix, but that might have created massive turmoil in the credit and stock markets, and he really had no leverage at this point in that indstry anyway.
So he took the biggest, juiciest and easiest target: an incompetent boob running an incompetent company incompetently.
Good for him.