July 24, 2008

A new rant: Forget Progress

Tme for a new rant. This has been bubbling up for too long and I need to let some of it out, here. So, away we go.

I reject ďprogressĒ and I reject ďprogressive thoughtĒ and, while I am at it, I reject ďchangeĒ.

I choose old, tired, shopworn, out of fashion, boring, conservative, modes of thought and behavior.

I am not persuaded that progress in social thought or behavior has brought enough good with the bad.

I reject the notions:

*that sexual promiscuity is without consequence, either physical or emotional;

*that tattoos are acceptable on anyone not a veteran;

*that television should be my guide in choosing my own personal behavior;

*that music that calls woman bitches is socially redeeming and valuable protest music;

*that we should not be permitted to make value judgments;

*that the Left is correct in failing to protest the position of gays or women in the Islamic world;

*that no one on the Left appears to seriously recognize the significant cognitive dissonance in wearing t-shirts like, ďGays for PalestineĒ;

*that childrenís literature should be filled with teaching moments to glorify and reinforce diversity;

*that some abstract notion of statistically tracked racial diversity is valuable while diversity of opinion is not important;

*that ďUnityĒ (yes, Sen. Obama, Iím talking to you) is ipso facto valuable and not, in fact, a fascist concept designed to stifle debate and freedom of expression;

*that someoneís ďhurt feelingsĒ is more important than my right to freedom of speech and, maybe more importantly, freedom AFTER speech;

*that parents abdicate their responsibilities to give their children moral guidance and instead transfer that responsibility to a school where such things are decided by a committee and implemented by books designed to meet the California market;

*that self-esteem is built by endless and meaningless praise, instead of struggle and accomplishment;

*that some banks are too big to fail (I just hope mine is not among them);

*that it is never appropriate to use your fists to settle an argument;

*that a nuclear Iran is a neutral force on the world stage (please, how can anyone seriously believe this?); and, finally (for now),

*I reject the notion that the United States is not the single greatest force for good among world actors today.

So, if you disagree, leave me alone in my quiet corner where my children donít watch television, are not permitted near a computer, and have to read or go outside and run around to play elaborate made up games. I promise you that my kids will be ready to help pick up the pieces after you mess up our society.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:52 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

June 23, 2008

Baseball and classics collide

Free associations come most freely and with the least inhibitions early in the morning, before the coffee kicks in.

I was up early (not that I had any choice in the matter) and watching Sports Center with the two boys when one of the anchors referred to KC Royal pitcher Gil Meche (pronounced "Mesh"). I immediately hit the free association button and thought:

Damn, he must be the first Sumerian to make it to the Show. Figures he'd break in as a pitcher, everyone knows Gilgamesh could not hit the long ball."

Wonder where Enkidu is playing these days?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 10, 2008

This was rough

This video was put together by a 15 year old girl.

God bless America and all of our servicewomen and servicemen in harm's way everywhere:

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:54 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 17, 2008

Farewell Bear Stearns

As of Sunday night, Bear Stearns basically ceased to exist as JP Morgan Chase purchased it for $2 a share. This may be the bargain of the century, by the way. The building alone is supposedly worth $8 a share. The CDO Book, which is illiquid and not tradeable, and therefore not really possible to value, is apparently performing. This means that the debt obligations which were sliced up to create the debt instruments are still paying out. In other words, while you can't trade 'em, at its most basic, people are paying the debts that make them up. If the instruments pay out and perform, it will be one hell of a coup for JP Morgan Chase.

Of course, the roughly 14,000 people of Bear and the investors who bought Bear are fucked. The retirement portfolios made up of Bear stock are ash. The jobs are questionable. The investments are up in smoke.

But there is still liquidity.

I do not share the view of the fellow this morning in my train station. I was buying my paper and overheard the following exchange as a man came in:

Woman: Hey! What are you doing here this early [5 a.m.]? I never see you this early.

Man: I always come in early when the earth is about to end.

Who was it who said that eternal nothingness was ok so long as you were dressed for it?

It is going to get a lot uglier out there before it gets better.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:56 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr., R.I.P.

William F. Buckley, Jr. has died. It is a tremendous loss to the nation and to anyone who values precision in language and passion in defense of conservative beliefs.

I was privileged to have spent many hours with him, in email correspondence, in telephone calls, and at a dinner. We were not friends, mind you, the distance in accomplishment and age was too great. But I respected him tremendously.

In tribute, I give you the retrospective of the best of his interviews on Charlie Rose:

My condolences to his family.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:44 PM | TrackBack

November 09, 2007

Veterans' Day

November 11, this Sunday, is Veterans' Day. In Europe, it is known as Armistice Day, to mark the end of World War I. I just returned from leading a wreath presentation here in NYC to mark the day, a bit early, but still. I hope that today (or Sunday) you take a moment and, at minimum, think of those who served our nation and think of them with gratitude. Better still, thank a veteran for his or her service. They have paid a price, some of them have paid the ultimate price, so that you could enjoy your life and so that your children could grow up in safety and security.

Thank a Veteran. You'll feel better, too.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 04, 2007

The words of a mother: all strung together

Someone sent me this excellent (totally safe for work) video of a mother's daily words all scrunched down together. I think it could apply to a father, too, by the way:

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 31, 2007

Labor is not how I would choose to honor Labor Day

Today marks the beginning of Labor Day weekend, the traditional end *sob* of summer. The train was not crowded and the parking lot was empty. My usual lunch takeout place was not too busy. The financial markets are going to close early, I was told. All in all, the quiet beginning to a quiet weekend.

Except, no one told my clients and adversaries. I have not had my quiet morning to draft an operating agreement with a nifty little life insurance buy out provision like I had hoped. Nope, I have been on the phone almost without pause: conference call with a court; settlement talks; negotiations on a job offer letter for a senior executive; discussions with a valuation expert out West (boy, was he up early); emails and document review and telephone calls to get out an "urgent" cease and desist letter. Good grief, people. Stop calling me. Go to the beach. Get an ice cream. This will all keep for a weekend.

Honoring Labor Day by actually performing labor is not at all what I had in mind.

I hope you all have a lovely (and if you are driving) and safe weekend!

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 31, 2007

History may not repeat itself, but that's only because no one is listening anyway

Hereís a passage from a book I was reading that I found eerily familiar, especially considering the current climate, and especially when I removed certain words. What do you think of the following (which war):

But _____________ success during the next nine months, again mainly in the East, discouraged so many ______ voters with the prospect of ever winning the war that the Democrats made great gains in congressional elections and potentially threatened the _____ administrationís ability to continue the war.

____ was an avid reader of _______ newspapers smuggled across the lines. From them he gleaned not only bits of military intelligence but also ó and more important in this case ó information about ________ politics and the growing disillusionment with the war among Democrats and despair among Republicans. One of _____ purposes in the _________ invasion was to intensify this ________ demoralization in advance of the congressional elections in the fall of ____. He hoped that ________ military success would encourage antiwar candidates. If Democrats could gain control of the House, it might cripple the ______ administrationís ability to carry on the war.

* * *

Bet you didnít think that the author was talking about the Civil War, right? Hereís the full quote:

But Confederate success during the next nine months, again mainly in the East, discouraged so many Northern voters with the prospect of ever winning the war that the Democrats made great gains in congressional elections and potentially threatened the Lincoln administrationís ability to continue the war.

Lee was an avid reader of Northern newspapers smuggled across the lines. From them he gleaned not only bits of military intelligence but also ó and more important in this case ó information about Northern politics and the growing disillusionment with the war among Democrats and despair among Republicans. One of Leeís purposes in the Maryland invasion was to intensify this Northern demoralization in advance of the congressional elections in the fall of 1862. He hoped that Confederate military success would encourage antiwar candidates. If Democrats could gain control of the House, it might cripple the Lincoln administrationís ability to carry on the war.

From McPhersonís new book, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:21 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 29, 2007

Who is watching baseball?

I was struck down on the train home on Friday night with a nasty flu like bug. I still feel poorly but nothing like as badly as I did on Saturday and Friday night where I alternated between fever wracked dreams and spasms that turned my whole body into one large muscle cramp. It was not fun.

I did manage to install myself on the coach and watch most of the Yankees-Red Sox game on Saturday. I sat there, zoning in and out, with chills and hot flash spells, with a brain rendered completely defenseless to the blandishments of those seeking to improve my life through the judicious exercise of consumer power, and I observed. And I came to some tentative conclusions about either (1) who watches afternoon big league baseball on a Saturday; (2) who the advertisers think is watching big league ball; (3) what is of the most serious moment to those viewers; or, (4) what the advertisers would like the viewers to feel is of the most serious moment.

First, these are men (I think) who drive trucks. Not your silly imports, but American made trucks. They take these trucks into the wilderness or they use them in furtherance of important agricultural or major construction jobs. Or, perhaps, that is what they'd like to be associated with. No matter. Trucks are important.

They watch NASCAR or are simply being urged to do so. Lots of commercials for NASCAR. I cannot square it with the truck thing, but that may be because I am more of the effete Eastern elite than anything else.

They drink beer, but primarily light beer. This means they are either concerned about their weight or are getting older. I think maybe it could be both.

They also may like golf. More on that later.

They probably own their own houses. Another clue that they are older. Why? Because there are grave concerns about lawn care, if you believe the advertisers, that is. Concern about grass and weeds.

They are also being pitched things like power tools (another clue to home ownership) and auto parts (another gender clue, I feel).

They have penis problems. Either in achieving and maintaining acceptable erections and thus feeling fulfilled in life or problems in passing water through said instrument. Another good clue as to the perceived age of the viewer. There are prostate problems and ED problems and plenty of drugs out there that will allow you intimate post coital moments with happy, satisfied mates and also allow you to get out there for long kayak trips, far from the urinal, with your best adventure seeking baby boomer pals. These people also play golf since there each potential drug consumer is also directed to see the advertisements in Golf Digest. I think that I will not play golf as it is not clear to me whether the penile dysfunctions existed in men prior to playing golf or were brought about by prolonged exposure to gold clubs, ugly clothes, and mass quantities of pesticides used in maintaining those emerald greens. Either way, I value my own penis too much to take the risk that appears to be endemic to playing golf.

So, watching the game is not for me or people like me, I gather. It is a wonder that I enjoyed it all.

Now, we interrupt this blogging break to return to bed. I feel another nap coming on.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:04 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 15, 2007

Sub Prime Mortgage implosion

I was kind of hoping that now that the sub prime mortgage market has imploded and taken the Dow Jones and S&P indices with it, that the amount of mortgage solication email s*p*_m I received on an hourly basis would recede. No such luck.

Man, these emails are like voices reaching to you from the grave.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 10, 2006

The concept is icky

Our trial settled today in the middle of the plaintiff's direct case. The settlement got put on the record, the parties were voir-dired, the case was closed, and we all went to lunch.

At Appleby's.

I approached the front door with some trepidation, having never been inside one of these places before. I am a bit of a snob when it comes to food. I like really fine restaurants or real dives or diners. I don't like places that try to re-create some odd fascimile of a dive bar. Either be a dive bar or don't. Also, I am sceptical of chains, of places where the food is created in some corporate development office, test marketed in Toledo (pace, Toledo, nothing meant by it), and then re-assembled in White Plains. Besides, I wonder how these places contribute to the growing obesity / pre-diabetes problem we're having.

Well, now that I've eaten there, I'd say my snobism is confirmed and I think these places contribute a lot to obesity.

One, the snob thing. I ordered for lunch the grilled salmon caesar salad, one of the healthiest choices I could locate. Fine. Overly dressed, but fine. I was not too surprised to learn that extra anchovies would not be made available to me. I was shocked to learn that the restaurant did not have a pepper mill so that a little fresh ground pepper could liven up the salad. So, they ain't really cooking for someone like me. And I could tell, based on the surprised look on our waitress's face, that people don't really ask for fresh pepper very often.

Two, the obesity thing. I drank diet coke with my repast. My companions, the same. As they finished the overly large drinks, the empties were immediately whisked away to be replaced by new overly large drinks. If my companions were drinking real coke or some other full sugar soda, they would have consumed enough empty calories to account for their entire day's quota. They also would have made the sugar companies wicked happy. If this is how middle America is drinking when they eat at this place, the obesity thing is just gonna keep getting worse and worse.

I think I could do without a return trip. And for the record, my soda was the only one at the table not in need of a refill. I could barely manage the giganto cup they served me the first time.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 06, 2006

The best remark to a protester

This award goes to Kathy's husband who caused one elderly barking moonbat to flap her protest sign at him in great agitation as he challanged her world view. She also might have not approved of his cigar, but that's just me.

Kathy's observations on the pacifists who dine and dash at the table of life are worth a peek, too.

I'm gonna use this one as soon as I next get the chance.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 30, 2005

La Migra

I spent some time today, on behalf of my wife, dealing with the Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration. What used to be known as INS or, depending on the sweat shop you were in, La Migra.

Ready to be shocked?

You sure?

Ok. Other than having to spend 5-10 minutes on hold, it was an exceptionally easy and pleasant experience. I had to speak to two different people to have my questions answered about a routine form, but both people were absolutely polite, energetic, and helpful. They had all the answers to my questions and were very patient. Both, by the way, were audibly taken aback when I convey happy new year wishes. Both, also, spoke English like you rarely hear anymore ‚Äď carefully enunciated and crisp, so that if you were a non-native speaker, you stood a much better shot at understanding them.

However, even though they spoke so well and were so very helpful, I despair of most immigrants’ chances of figuring out the forms all by themselves. It took two lawyers in my office (me and someone much older and smarter) the better part of 40 minutes before I phoned. And even then, the older and smarter lawyer was wrong in his advice, as it turns out and as he was gracious enough to admit. All told, figure it took over an hour of billable time by two highly experienced professionals to fill out a simple form and to get some of it wrong anyway. I feel so sorry for those unfortunate non-native English speakers who have to do this kind of thing all alone.

That said, can you believe anyone is writing about how great an experience it was to deal with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration?

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 02, 2005

The bigger the word, the bigger the brain? Hardly

I may be repeating myself here and I am prepared to take that risk (even if I am too lazy to search my own archieves to check). Let's start with one simple proposition that I hope we can all agree on: English is a beautiful and expressive language. It is also a large language and, at times, a very elastic language, growing all the time. Its also a lot of fun.

Sometimes, it is used poorly. Sometimes it is used pretentiously, to make the speaker appear either smarter or better educated than the speaker really is. It is this to which I address my objections today.

Let's begin with a common and annoying mistake.

Method and methodology are not synonyms.

Method is, according to Answer. com (not better or worse than any other place to go for a definition): "A means or manner of procedure, especially a regular and systematic way of accomplishing something".

Methodology is: "A body of practices, procedures, and rules used by those who work in a discipline or engage in an inquiry; a set of working methods".

See the difference? See why saying methodology, because it sounds more important since its longer and since it has that nifty "logy" ending, does not make you sound smarter? Method is a perfectly nice word, a good word, even.

Answer.com even has a helpful usage note on this point:

USAGE NOTE Methodology can properly refer to the theoretical analysis of the methods appropriate to a field of study or to the body of methods and principles particular to a branch of knowledge. In this sense, one may speak of objections to the methodology of a geographic survey (that is, objections dealing with the appropriateness of the methods used) or of the methodology of modern cognitive psychology (that is, the principles and practices that underlie research in the field). In recent years, however, methodology has been increasingly used as a pretentious substitute for method in scientific and technical contexts, as in The oil company has not yet decided on a methodology for restoring the beaches. People may have taken to this practice by influence of the adjective methodological to mean ‚Äúpertaining to methods.‚ÄĚ Methodological may have acquired this meaning because people had already been using the more ordinary adjective methodical to mean ‚Äúorderly, systematic.‚ÄĚ But the misuse of methodology obscures an important conceptual distinction between the tools of scientific investigation (properly methods) and the principles that determine how such tools are deployed and interpreted.

Let us turn our attention to another confusing substitution we often see: difference and differential. They do not mean the same thing.

Difference: "The quality or condition of being unlike or dissimilar."

Differential: "Of, relating to, or showing a difference"

Again, see the difference? One is the whole shooting match and the other is, basically, the measurement of the difference. People can't tell the difference between red and blue when they are color blind. Good. People can't tell the differential between red and blue, etc. Bad.

‚Äú‚ÄėWhen I use a word,‚Äô Humpty Dumpty said, ‚Äėit means just what I choose it to mean‚ÄĒneither more nor less.‚Äô‚ÄĚ

Rant concluded. Please go about your normal activities. Nothing to see here. Move along, move along. My medication ought to be kicking it any second now, and when it does, I am certain it will be impactful*.

*Another time, soon, we will talk about these horrid creations. Impactful. *shudder*

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:21 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

September 23, 2005

Holocaust Survivor to receive Congressional Medal of Honor

Today, at 2:30 p.m., in the Rose Garden at the White House, President Bush will award Corporal Tibor Rubin with the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Rubin immigrated to the United States in 1948 and answered America‚Äôs call to duty by volunteering for Army service. By July 1950, Rubin was fighting on the front lines in Korea as an infantryman in I ‚ÄúItem‚ÄĚ Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. During numerous engagements, Rubin‚Äôs actions to engage the enemy and to tend the wounded, at careless disregard for his own safety, resulted in the heroic defense of his unit. In one such mission, Rubin single-handedly defended a hill for 24 hours, allowing his company to withdraw.

Subsequently, Rubin dragged to safety a critically-wounded Soldier who others had left to perish. When he and surviving members of his unit were captured and interred in North Korean and Chinese Prisoner Of War camps, Rubin drew from his hard-won personal experiences in the Holocaust death camps to find food and provide medical care to his fellow captives. The U.S. Army credits Rubin with saving the lives of more than 40 Soldiers.

Now, 55 years later, Rubin will receive the nation’s highest military honor.

Source.

More information on this American hero is available at the Army's website.

Unofficially, I believe that this is the only award of the MOH to a concentration camp survivor. Also, I believe that this doubles the number of living Jewish MOH recipients to two. I have had the privilege of meeting the other, Colonel Jack Jacobs, on several occasions.

As always, I find myself humbled when I read about men like these.


Posted by Random Penseur at 10:23 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 02, 2005

"We are Americans"

Rob reproduced the imposition of sentencing of Richard Reid by Judge Young. Go forth and read it for it is good. A small quote:

Here in this courtroom and courtrooms all across America, the American people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not war, individual justice is in fact being done. The very President of the United States, through his officers, come into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to mold and shape and refine our sense of justice.

See that flag, Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag stands for freedom. And it always will.

Amen.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Gulf Coast: Speculation on Consequences

I am not an expert on any of the things I am about to write about. I am just a relatively thoughtful guy who sat back on the train this morning, closed his eyes, and tried to sort through some of the broader consequences, broader implications, of this entire mess on the Gulf Coast. I think that this has the potential to wreak havoc far beyond the state borders down there.

First, these cities have municipal bonds. They have to pay interest on these bonds. They issue the bonds to pay for things like sewage projects and canal work and convention centers and all sorts of either infrastructure stuff or for projects that they calculate will throw off big revenues. The bonds are usually serviced by taxes or fees. Fees are paid by the users, like with a sewage project. Taxes are paid by everyone. Taxes are generated as a consequence of economic activity -- sales tax, for example. Where is the revenue going to come from now that the city is a dead man crawling? I know that there are reserves, up to about a year, socked away to continue interest payments, but do you really think that money isn't somehow going to get sucked into something else? What are the consequences when these cities seek bankruptcy protection or just plain default on the debts? Are they going to be able to go to the markets again to raise money? What happens to the people who hold that debt? It isn't enough to say that the bonds are insured because, at the end of the day, someone will bear that cost. Someone sitting in their dry and comfy home in a state far, far away is going to take a hit on their portfolio. Oh, and by the way, who hold munis in the first place? Those on a fixed income -- the elderly.

Second, the national mortgage market will take a hit, I think. Mortgages today are not as they once were. Once upon a time, your local bank lent you money, held your note, serviced your loan, and collected on it or foreclosed if it had to. Today, mortgages are the first step in an exotic financial market where they get converted into pool and tranches and debt is diced and sliced and sold off all over the place. This is a mighty big business, no two ways about it. You, the homeowner may not think about it like that as you write your check, but it is. Rarely do banks lend for their own portfolios anymore. What happens now when there is a national market in the mortgage debt and people have no reason or no ability if they have a reason to continue making payments on a house that doesn't exist anymore and for which insurance may not cover any of the loss. What are the implications for the national market as portions, large portions, of two states default on their mortgage debt? And what the heck do you foreclose on? How do you even find the land now that the river has reclaimed it in places? What will happen to interest rates? Beats the shit out of me. I just assume that there will be a problem.

Third, who is going to repopulate New Orleans? Those who are the most mobile, the best educated, those with the most portable skills, they are going to establish lives elsewhere. I was on the phone yesterday with my kids' nursery school and the director told me that she just got off the phone with a woman from New Orleans who is relocating up to Connecticut. She was calling from a hotel room in Houston. Once these kids get into new schools and the smart and aggressive types get new jobs, are they going to go back? I am skeptical. Highly skeptical. They will wonder whether anything in New Orleans can ever change and they won't take the risk of putting their families back there. So what happens to the city when you have this huge brain drain? You cannot populate the city with the Ninth Ward, those who may lack the skills and the resources to re-establish themselves elsewhere. Not to be a doom sayer, but I am deeply worried about the total eradication of the middle and upper middle class in New Orleans. You can't have a city without these people, at least, not a city people would want to live in.

Fourth, what the hell are the people who have a livelihood tied to the area going to do for money now? Let's take the lawyers for a moment. Law in Louisiana is based on the Napoleonic Code. It is the only place in the country with this kind of law. Lawyers admitted in Louisiana may not be able to really practice anywhere else. And even if they were, where are their clients? Who is going to pay them? What about real estate brokers? They sell local real estate. Well, I'm kind of thinking that market may be a little moribund for awhile. Or. . . Well, take any service provider in a local economy. They are all screwed. Are they all going to go from upper middle class to welfare in three easy steps? Consequences there are huge. First, a new and great strain on a cruddy social welfare system to begin with. Can the system even handle these new people? (Actually, one consequence might be a reform of the system if you suddenly get a lot of well educated people as "clients" of it). Second, where are the taxes going to come from to pay the welfare? If the high earners are not earning, they ain't paying taxes. Enough said, right?

The above is just a start. It is deeply depressing and I kind of have to stop now.

Except for this. Kathy (who I love) has written, in the midst of an excellent post about the anarchy in New Orleans, about the losses suffered by her brother's new car dealership in New Orleans. My heart goes out to them. However, I think Kathy is focusing on the wrong thing. It isn't whether the cars are a total writeoff or whether the dealership building has been damaged. No, the question is: who will be able to afford to buy the cars? What if no one in the economy has any money or jobs to justify credit to buy the cars? If that happens, we as a nation may be facing much greater trouble than we all think.

I hope I'm wrong about all of this. I really do. *sigh*

U P D A T E

Well, so much for being wrong. I read the following things on the Times Picayune Blog this afternoon:

Mortgage Loan Relief Available

Fannie Mae has mortgage relief provisions in place for borrowers in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and other states facing hardships as a result of widespread damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

With Fannie Mae's disaster relief provisions, lenders help borrowers in several ways, including suspending mortgage payments for up to three months, reducing the payments for up to 18 months, or in more severe cases, creating longer loan payback plans. Such assistance is provided on a case-by-case basis, and is designed to meet the individual needs of borrowers.

For information on mortgage relief, homeowners who have experienced hardships should contact the lender to whom they send their monthly mortgage payment.


and

Ford Offers Payment Deferrals

Ford Motor Credit Company is offering customers affected by Hurricane Katrina the opportunity to defer up to two vehicle payments.

Under the Disaster Relief Program, customers have the opportunity to defer these monthly payments without paying extension fees. The program is open to customers living in counties that FEMA has declared federal disaster areas as a result of the storm.

Ford Motor Credit customers who are eligible for the Disaster Relief Program should receive letters next week with instructions on how to register. Customers must register within 60 days to qualify. Deferred payments are due at the end of the contract term.

Looks like some of the big lenders are concerned that if they don't permit some form of deferral of payment, the debtors are going to tell them to go f*ck themselves.

What do you think that would do to Ford's stock? Not to mention Ford's corporate bonds?

This is just going to get more and more ugly.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:25 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

September 01, 2005

Your heart just breaks

Viewing this picture just breaks my heart.

babywait.jpg

The caption read:

Darryl Thompson tries to comfort his daughter Dejanae while waiting for who knows what on the Pontchartrain Expressway, Wednesday, August 31, 2005.
Posted by Random Penseur at 02:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Never know where a little courtesy will lead you

There I was, this morning, standing on line at the bank, when an older man got on line behind me. On his lapel, he was wearing a CIB -- a Combat Infantry Badge, an honor given to those who have served in combat. I am a respectful sort by nature. My mom kind of beat that into me. So, I asked this man if he'd like to go in front of me on line and we had the following conversation:

Me: I see that you are wearing the CIB. May I offer you my place in line?

Him: That's very kind of you. I'm also 91 years old.

Me: Well, you certainly don't look it. [And he really didn't]

Him: Yes, I was 30 years old in WW II.

Me: Is that where you earned your CIB?

Him: Sure was. I fought at Omaha Beach and with Patton. I was even with British troops during the Battle of the Bulge. They were something else. Can you believe that every day at 4:00, they stopped their tanks, got out, and made tea? Couldn't believe it. Tea. They were tough little bastards, though, gotta give 'em that.

And with that, he was called to the next teller, although he thanked me for letting him cut ahead and we shook hands. I actually shook hands with someone who fought at Omaha Beach. Like I said in the title to this, you never know where courtesy is going to lead you or what interesting conversations you can have. That bit about the Brits was, I thought, priceless.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:35 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The New Orleans Legal Community

This is the text of an email I received this morning. It was sent from a law school professor at Southern University Law School. As she says at the close, can you imagine a disaster like this in your state? It is to weep.

5,000 - 6,000 lawyers (1/3 of the lawyers in Louisiana) have lost their offices, their libraries, their computers with all information thereon, their client files - possibly their clients, as one attorney who e-mailed me noted. As I mentioned before, they are scattered from Florida to Arizona and have nothing to return to. Their children's schools are gone and, optimistically, the school systems in 8 parishes/counties won't be re-opened until after December. They must re-locate their lives.

Our state supreme court is under some water - with all appellate files and evidence folders/boxes along with it. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals building is under some water - with the same effect. Right now there may only be 3-4 feet of standing water but, if you think about it, most files are kept in the basements or lower floors of courthouses. What effect will that have on the lives of citizens and lawyers throughout this state and this area of the country? And on the law?

The city and district courts in as many as 8 parishes/counties are under water, as well as 3 of our circuit courts - with evidence/files at each of them ruined. The law enforcement offices in those areas are under water - again, with evidence ruined. 6,000 prisoners in 2 prisons and one juvenile facility are having to be securely relocated. We already have over-crowding at most Louisiana prisons and juvenile facilities. What effect will this have? And what happens when the evidence in their cases has been destroyed? Will the guilty be released upon the communities? Will the innocent not be able to prove their innocence?

Our state bar offices are under water. Our state disciplinary offices are under water - again with evidence ruined. Our state disciplinary offices are located on Veteran's Blvd. in Metairie. Those of you who have been watching the news, they continue to show Veteran's Blvd. It's the shot with the destroyed Target store and shopping center under water and that looks like a long canal. Our Committee on Bar Admissions is located there and would have been housing the bar exams which have been turned in from the recent July bar exam (this is one time I'll pray the examiners were late in turning them in - we were set to meet in 2 weeks to go over the results). Will all of those new graduates have to retake the bar exam?

Two of the 4 law schools in Louisiana are located in New Orleans (Loyola and Tulane - the 2 private ones that students have already paid about $8,000+ for this semester to attend). Another 1,000+ lawyers-to-be whose lives have been detoured. I've contacted professors at both schools but they can't reach anyone at those schools and don't know the amount of damage they've taken. Certainly, at least, this semester is over. I'm trying to reach the Chancellor's at Southern and LSU here in Baton Rouge to see if there's anything we can do to take in the students and/or the professors. I think I mentioned before, students from out of state have beens stranded at at least 2 of the other universities in New Orleans - they're moving up floor after floor as the water rises. Our local news station received a call from some medical students at Tulane Medical Center who were now on the 5th floor of the dormitories as the water had risen. One of them had had a heart attack and they had no medical supplies and couldn't reach anyone - 911 was busy, local law enforcement couldn't be reached, they were going through the phone book and reached a news station 90 miles away!! It took the station almost 45 minutes to finally find someone with FEMA to try to get in to them!!

And, then, there are the clients whose files are lost, whose cases are stymied. Their lives, too, are derailed. Of course, the vast majority live in the area and that's the least of their worries. But, the New Orleans firms also have a large national and international client base. For example, I received an e-mail from one attorney friend who I work with on some crucial domestic violence (spousal and child) cases around the nation - those clients could be seriously impacted by the loss, even temporarily, of their attorney - and he can't get to them and is having difficulty contacting the many courts around the nation where his cases are pending. Large corporate clients may have their files blowing in the wind where the high rise buildings had windows blown out.

I woke up this morning to the picture of Veteran's Blvd which made me think of my students who just took the bar. My thoughts wandered from there to the effect on the Disciplinary Offices. Then my thoughts continued on. I'm sure I'm still missing a big part of the future picture. It's just devastating. Can you imagine something of this dimension in your state?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Hurricane Relief

There was a time in the not so distant past that hurricane relief meant turning down a refill on your hurricane at Pat O's in the French Quarter so that you could toddle off to the next bar. I hope we see those days again.

In the meantime, a lot of people are putting their money where their mouths are:

Michele has things up for auction to benefit the victims

and

Phin is put up for auction a web re-design.

Kathy has a good post on disaster relief, including a reminder that the American Red Cross has nothing to do with the International Red Cross, an important reminder for those of us who dislike the IRC.

Finally, I direct you to Little Green Footballs for a huge collection of links to charities.

For me, personally, I intend to wait a little before donating. I want to see where I think I can send my money to do the most good. At the moment, I don't have a clear idea so I will sit back a bit. I have emotional and real connections to the town and its people and there are local charities, local institutions, which may have first claim on me. I'm waiting to see what they need.

In the meantime, I understand that all of my friends are safe, or they were two days ago. I am very thankful. Very thankful, indeed.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:46 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 31, 2005

Sobering Reading regarding hurricane

This Hurricane Blog is sobering reading. It is the most updated thing I've seen. Its a news channel blog and collects information. Example:

11:40 - (AP) Roving bands of looters are breaking into stores in Carrollton area to get food and supplies. They've also stolen guns and armed themselves.
Posted by Random Penseur at 01:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Drowning Death of a City: New Orleans

By now, I assume everyone knows that New Orleans is dying, drowning as the levees have been breached and the city turns into a tidal arm of the Gulf of Mexico. The images are all over the television and all over the newspapers. Even the NY Times has devoted four or five full pages of coverage to the devastation in Louisiana and Mississippi. People rescued, people dead, people trapped, people dying, babies being born, looters stealing everything not nailed down. Looks like a bad science fiction novel about the world ending. But, as bad as it may be, and I have so many friends living down there who I cannot get in touch with and who I worry about, I want to focus on a different issue.

Cities can be rebuilt. New Orleans can be drained of the water, the snakes sent packing back into the swamps, the alligators captured and either eaten (trust me on this, they're pretty yummy) or relocated, and the bricks stacked back up. Indeed, the Times was forecasting in the months ahead a huge economic boom for the area fueled by federal assistance and private insurance money payouts (assuming, of course, that the damage was caused by wind and not water -- a tough argument ahead for many).

But even as the city is rebuilt and life begins again, there are some things that cannot be replaced. What will be gone will be the cultural heritage and artifacts that served to connect us with our ancestors. What am I talking about? The museums have died, the cultural repositories of our collective past and memories, and with them, the city dies.

There are some wonderful museums in New Orleans: the D-Day Museum; the Civil War Museum (in a great Richardson building just off Lee Circle); the New Orleans Museum of Art; the City of New Orleans Museum; the State of Louisiana Museum in 8 historic buildings around Jackson Square; and the Mardi Gras Museum. The flood waters will not deal kindly with these places. The waters will erase our memories just as the diaries and letters home of the young Civil War soldiers will surely perish. The paintings. I can't even begin to think about the paintings. All of the ephemera will be just that, ephemeral and evanescent.

I include in this the great libraries at Tulane University and Loyola University, two of the many colleges in New Orleans. I assume that they are gone, along with their collections of rare books and prints.

And what about the parish churches and courthouses, with their centuries of records of births, deaths, wills, land transfers, famous disputes, and all the records that make up our collective heritage? Again, I assume they are gone.

You can rebuild a city.

You cannot remake a heritage. So, while I mourn, quietly, for the city and those who have lost everything to the hurricane, I ask you to join with me and mourn the loss to us all of that which connected us to our past. We are a young nation, still, and our past is always with us and thus even more precious.

Finally, and again, I have not seen anything on this, what happened to the poor animals at Audubon Zoo?

Last night, and this is what got me thinking about all of this, I ran into an old friend on the train, someone I have not seen in 15 years. It wasn't even a train that he normally ever takes. I wasn't sure I even recognized him, but then I saw the tie -- a Southern tie. The Yacht Club. The SYC. That clinched it for me. He told me that Southern, where I had passed many happy moments, had burned to the ground. You can see it here.

U P D A T E: Sept. 1, 2005

From the New Orleans Times Picayune:

Floodwater stops short of City Park museum

By Dante Ramos and Doug MacCash
Staff Writers

The New Orleans Museum of Art survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath without significant damage.

But when Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives arrived in the area Wednesday, NOMA employees holed up inside the museum were left in a quandary:

FEMA wanted those evacuees to move to a safer location, but there was no way to secure the artwork inside.
Six security and maintenance employees remained on duty during the hurricane and were joined by 30 evacuees, including the families of some employees.

Harold Lyons, a security console operator who stayed on at the museum, said FEMA representatives were the first outsiders to show up at the museum in days.

They immediately tried to persuade staffers to leave the building. That would have left no one to protect the museum’s contents, and no one inside the museum had the authority to give that order, Lyons said as he inspected the grounds.

Museum Director John Bullard was on vacation and assistant Director Jacquie Sullivan had taken a disabled brother to Gonzales.

“We can’t just leave and turn out the lights on the say-so of someone we don’t know,’’ Lyons said.

The phones inside the museum had failed. Lyons asked a reporter to pass a message to Sullivan as soon as possible.

Interviewed by telephone, Sullivan said she had been in close contact with emergency management officials all day Wednesday. State Police had promised to take her back to the museum at 7 a.m. Thursday, she said.

City Park was littered with fallen trees, but evacuees’ cars, clustered around the museum’s walls, were mostly unscathed. The museum itself was spared any wind damage, and floodwater had not reached the building.

Inside, the museum’s generators whirred away, providing air conditioning to preserve the priceless artworks.

Sullivan said museum workers had taken down some pieces in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden before the storm.

But a towering modernist sculpture by Kenneth Snelson was reduced to a twisted mess in the lagoon.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:45 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

August 29, 2005

Spare a thought for New Orleans, please

New Orleans is about to get hit by the worst possible kind of storm. Updates are available at NOLA.com. They are predicting a storm which will overwhelm the levies and innundate the city. You may not know, but New Orleans is the only major city in the country under sea level.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 14, 2005

Go West, Young Man!

I skipped out of work early last night to go up with a friend to a very spiffy little club called the Grolier Club. The Grolier is a bibliophile club. You have to be actively engaged in the book collecting or book dealing world to be a member. They have an astonishing collection and the best library in the country for research on books and book collecting. The club has a beautiful little brownstone in the lower 60's on the East Side. No dining facilities, but you can't have everything, I suppose.

I went, though, not to see the clubhouse but to see an exhibit of manuscripts, maps and artifacts relating to the American West. It was pretty damn cool. Highlights included: a strand from the original Morse telegraph wire; Peter Stuyvesant's signature; Lewis and Clark signatures and letters; Brigham Young letter describing the original trek West; and, the playing cards used by Frank James, Jesse's brother. Here's the text of the hand out:

Rich in natural resources, cultures, legends and opportunities, the American West has made dreamers of generations of Americans. On view at the Grolier Club from May 11 through July 30, 2005, the exhibition The Western Pursuit of the American Dream chronicles the vast historical panorama of the American West through the outstanding holdings of collector Kenneth W. Rendell. Nearly 150 objects document this national adventure through the actual words and artifacts of explorers, travelers, warriors, gold seekers, merchants, outlaws-dreamers all-who shaped the American frontier.

The Western Pursuit begins with the Spanish in Mexico and ends with filmmakers in Hollywood. It chronicles the dream of freedom and opportunity in the West and how it inspired adventures, trade, and legends, exploring the history of the fur trade, cartography, industry, artistry, and Western tourism. The Rendell collection includes fascinating letters, diaries and first-hand descriptions, as well as intriguing western artifacts collected over decades. Rarely-seen volumes such as a first edition of the History of the Expedition…of Captains Lewis and Clark, and personal accounts by explorers, traders, trappers, and travelers provide an intimate glimpse of the West. Its history is also conveyed through remarkable artifacts such as a gold pan used by forty-niners, letters of Davy Crockett and Wild Bill Hickok, Pony Express envelopes, and Frank James' playing cards. As Mr. Rendell has pointed out, "These remnants of the past express, as no historian can, the realities, anxieties, and hope of a new life that the West represented. This sense of hope was not exclusive to the people who actually went there, but was also felt by those who merely fantasized about escaping to the frontier."

The trek by Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their Corps of Discovery is one of America's legendary adventures. Silver peace medals like those used by Lewis and Clark to gain the trust of Indian leaders are on view. An extraordinarily rare, first-edition map of Lewis and Clark's journey, which portrayed far more territory than anticipated and further fueled the lure of the West, is an exhibition highlight.

In the 1840s, the era of Manifest Destiny, Americans were consumed with dreams of settling the West. This period is recalled through a fascinating selection of guidebooks used by travelers to cross the continent. Publications like The Route Across the Rocky Mountains (1846) and A New History of Oregon and California (1847) present a first-hand look at the great overland migration. Miners soon followed and the story of the California gold rush is told through evocative early photographs of miners, panning equipment, travel guides, gold nuggets, and a rare letter by John A. Sutter---all evoking the dream of striking it rich in places where the streets were purportedly paved in gold.

Others found ways to earn a living in the West. Soon after the Civil War, industrialization spread with the transcontinental railroad. Within two years of its completion in 1869, passengers and freight could cross the continent in a matter of days. Stereograph images from events like the Golden Spike Ceremony, and the idealized prints of railroad travel by Currier and Ives fueled enthusiasm for many to pursue opportunity in the West.

The exhibition also reveals the tensions between the romance and the realities of the West, as Davy Crockett stories and tales of cowboys often portrayed an idealized view. Even lore of the infamous outlaw Jesse James depicts a complex character that was both admired and loathed in his day, while the legendary Pony Express is shown to have been a short-lived venture that operated for only 18 months. Similarly, the widespread public fascination in the 19th century with Native American culture and artifacts, even as the U.S. government worked to eradicate traditional Indian communities, is examined.

The Western Pursuit concludes with a look at how the history of the West was further codified in the twentieth century by Hollywood film studios. "It is important to remember that the people presented in this exhibition were dreamers," said Mr. Rendell. "In fact, the American West still inspires modern-day dreams in industry, education, and business. This is the story of the pursuit of dreams. You could say it is the story of human nature itself."

We capped the evening off with private drinks in the lounge and conversation. It was delightful. Boy did it make me miss living in the City.

I just missed my 7:10 train home so I had to console myself with a glass of Champagne with a friend at a restaurant bar in the PanAm (not called that anymore but I intend to keep calling it that) Building. And to top it all off, the 28 year old bartender, a delightful young woman who is an excellent judge of men, flirted with me. A lot.

Some nights just make the day totally worthwhile.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 30, 2005

Memorial Day Photographs, II

Here is one image I think particularly haunting from the Korean War Memorial:

korea.JPG

From the World War II Memorial:

wwII.JPG

A flower, placed in the hand of a dying soldier, part of the Vietnam Memorial:

vietnamflower.JPG


And finally, looking towards Lincoln:

lincolnfromafar.JPG

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:32 PM | Comments (3)

Memorial Day Photograps, I

A photo of the gold stars at the World War II Memorial:

goldstars.JPG

Each gold star represents 1000 war dead.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:00 AM | Comments (2)

May 27, 2005

Decoration Day

This weekend will mark another "Decoration Day", or Memorial Day, as is has come to be called. I kind of prefer Decoration Day, myself. It was a day when people would gather together and decorate the graves of the dead soldiers (and I include sailors, air men, marines and coast guard here whenever I use the word soldier, ok) and remember.

Do we still remember? Do we remember the words on the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. that:

FREEDOM IS NOT FREE

Men and women have died for our freedom and die today to ensure freedom for others. For this, if for no other reason, and there are plenty of good other reasons, I will pause this weekend, and I will remember.

May God bless all of our fellow Americans who this day wear our nation's uniforms.

And for those who did not come home, I want to leave you with some of the words from Taps (there are no official words), composed By Major General Daniel Butterfield, Army of the Potomac, Civil War, July 1862:

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.

For information about Taps.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:31 AM | Comments (4)

May 04, 2005

It's all in the way you tell it

So, there I was, sweating away this morning in the gym and half-listening to CNN when they did a really interesting interview with an automotive industry analyst who was brought on to talk about the stark drop off in sales at General Motors. She was quite good, actually, explaining that what has the Street so freaked out is that the drop in sales was mostly in the SUV market, where GM makes all their money. If Americans are not buying the big Suburbans than GM ain't making no money, Well, she said it better. Then she was asked about whether union deals were hurting GM and whether GM was really spending too much on healthcare.

And this is where it got interesting for me. The analyst said that $1200 out of every car sold is used to pay for health care costs. Ok, well, that seems like a lot but I have no way of knowing. How do I put that in context? How many workers does that $1200 pay for? How many retirees? How many families? In short, how many people are covered by that?

Well, she went on to put in context for me. And this is what I mean when I say that it's all in the way you tell it, all in the way you present information. Telling me $1200 per car really tells me nothing. But tell me:

General Motors spent more on health care last year than they did on steel

and you've smacked me upside the head and caught my attention. She felt that for a manufacturing company, this wasn't very good.

Can you imagine that? Is GM a manufacturing company or a social welfare state? Let's see if we can figure that out a little.

GM, according to their annual report for 2004, had net sales and revenue of $193.5 billion. GM seems to divide themselves into auto making and finance/insurance divisions for revenue purposes. That's our first hint that GM may not be just a manufacturing company -- they have a f/i division big enough to warrant a separate discussion in the annual report. Automotive still is the biggest, earning $161.5 billion of the $193.5 and f/i earning some $32 billion. But I do note that only f/i earned a profit -- some $2.9 billion. Unfortunately, I lack the time to probe further and I cannot seem to isolate how much GM spent on steel last year or even what the costs were associated with the automotive divisions. Not a shock, really, when you're dealing with a company that size.

But still, more on health care than on steel. Stunning, isn't it?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:27 AM | Comments (5)

April 22, 2005

I come not to praise Bernard Henri Levy

The Atlantic Monthly has embarked upon an ambitious and wonderfully conceived project to send celebrated French intellectual Bernard Henri Levy around the United States to emulate, sort of, the journey taken by my all time favorite Frenchman, Alexis de Toqueville. As I hope you already know, Toqueville was the young French nobleman who traveled across our fair land and penned the incomparable classic, Democracy in America. This book, to me, is the most important book ever written about America. I cannot praise it enough or overstate its importance. If you've never read it, well, go get a copy and check it out.

So, anyway, here's the Atlantic Monthly with this fabulous idea. The first report has just come out in the most recent issue and I rush to the news stand to buy it. I read the entire installment. Its very long. It, how shall I put this, really, really sucks.

Let me count the ways in which I was so cruelly disappointed. First, M. Levy doesn't seem to have the first clue about America. Second, his travels, like his writing (more on this in a moment) are disjointed and disorganized. He flits from place to place, never seeming to linger very long, with no apparent reason for going to a place or leaving a place. Third, some of the political biases he brings with him about America seem stuck in decades long since past. The war in Vietnam is over, Sir. I hope I am not the first one to clue you into that fact. Fourth, no one likes being condescended to. Just saying. Fifth, the writing style is suggestive of his entire approach. He writes in a staccato fashion, full of sentence fragments, as if to suggest great energy or urgency, that his observations are coming so fast and furious that it is impossible to get them down on the page fast enough before they are gone. Also, the style suggests a lack of calm reflection, a want of consideration and mulling over of the observations he purports to make. But I do think that the style of writing correctly reflects M. Levy's skimming over the surface approach.

The best part of the essay so far? The most impressive interchange? A policeman in rural West who, after stopping to tell M. Levy he needs to move along and discovers that Levy is following in Toqueville's footsteps, asks Levy if so far he feels that Toqueville's observations about America are still valid. Levy, I regret to report, writes of this encounter with wide eyed astonishment, as if to say that he is astounded to discover a cop with an education, but never gets around to furnishing an answer. I think that the police officer got the better of this exchange and I am proud to say so.

I hold out little hope for the next installment, even if I am going to read it anyway.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:17 AM | Comments (4)

April 13, 2005

Gentlemen: Check your closets when you get home tonight

Check your closet when you get home tonight, gentlemen. The life you save may be your own.

This from the AP Wire today:

TENNESSEE: MAN SLAIN AFTER FINDING WIFE'S LOVER A Nashville man was beaten to death after catching his wife's lover living in a closet in their home, the police said. Rafael DeJesus Rocha-Perez, 35, left, was charged with homicide in the weekend slaying of Jeffrey A. Freeman, 44. Mr. Freeman's wife, Martha, had allowed Mr. Rocha-Perez to live in a closet of the Freemans' four-bedroom home for about a month without her husband's knowledge, the police said. On Sunday, Mr. Freeman discovered Mr. Rocha-Perez after hearing snoring and ordered his wife to get the man out of the house, the authorities said. Ms. Freeman told the authorities that Mr. Rocha-Perez bludgeoned her husband with a shotgun. (AP)

I don't really know what to add to this, if anything. But, come on, stashing your lover in the closet of the guest bedroom? Are you kidding me? I don't know about your guest bedroom closet, but I have cleverly ruled this possiblity out for my wife by already filling that closet with assorted crap and detritus. So, I'm feeling pretty safe at home right now I'd have to say.

Just the same, I'm going to take a quick tour of the closet and attic. Just saying.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:47 AM | Comments (6)

April 08, 2005

The juxtaposition

The juxtaposition was a useful tool in studying architectural history, many moons ago. We would put two buildings up on the wall at the same time and compare and contrast and see what we could learn from the process. Like I said, a useful tool for art history but it has its limitations when applied to other things. I keep telling myself that, you see, and I'm almost convinced.

I was working out this morning, as I do most every morning, and the television was broadcasting coverage of the funeral of the Pope. While at first I was very skeptical about the benefit to my work out this broadcast could have, I ended up engrossed. It was beautiful and moving and wonderful and terribly sad all at the same time. One priest said it best when he said that maybe there was a life lesson here for all of us -- that here was a man who was rich beyond compare in love, his funeral attended by millions but who owned almost nothing, had no money, no family and no sexual intimacy but who was nonetheless rich. Something there for sure, even if I am not willing to pay the kind of price this man paid, putting to one side the fact that I am Jewish. Still, a much loved and, by all accounts, a tremendous man, a tremendous human being, a tremendous loss to the Catholic Church and to the world as a whole. New Yorkers have a special bond with the Church, whether you are Jewish or Catholic or something else. When John Cardinal O’Connor died, I felt it as my loss, because as a New Yorker I felt he was my Cardinal, too. I hope my Catholic readers understand and don't mind my claiming him, too. And I think it was like that for a lot of New Yorkers.

Anyway, back to Rome and this morning. I was mortifying the flesh on the elliptical trainer and watching the funeral and it was very special.

And then, a commercial. The commercial, the first one in over 20 minutes, was for a drug, a medicine. Ok so far, right? The drug had something to do with vaginal infections. It had a long list of warnings and side effects -- like be careful because your vagina could fall out if you take this or you could bleed or your uterus might float away.

Boom. Your juxtaposition. Funeral of the Pope right up next to vaginal bleeding. The best and worst of America in terms of picking a time and place to run that advert. Advertisements pay for the television coverage. They make it possible to send the reporters to Rome and broadcast this beautiful rite. I get it, really. But couldn't Fox News have shown a different commercial at that time? Something a little less graphic, perhaps. Something a little more solemn. Maybe I'm the only one that this bothered, and that's ok, since its my blog and I get to write about whatever I want. But it was the juxtaposition that got to me. The Sacred/Profane or at least mundane. I would have felt the same if the ad was for foot fungus, by the way. What did this juxtaposition say about America, this mixture of Rite/Commerce?

And here is where I run into the limitations of the juxtaposition, for while the juxtaposition may always teach you something, maybe the lesson isn't worth having or the comparisons don't hold water.

I don't know if that happened here because I find myself curiously reluctant to follow the path that this juxtaposition is leading me -- to condemn Fox and American television for their timing. What do you think? Is this a juxtaposition worth talking about? Or should I have gotten off the machine before I cooked my brain this morning?

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:25 PM | Comments (4)

February 08, 2005

Throw me something, Mister!!!

Happy Mardi Gras, y'all!

Today, in New Orleans, Mardi Gras rushes to its conclusion as thousands of people take their clothes off and either simulate or actually have sex in public in the French Quarter. There are many Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. They don't all revolve around the French Quarter madness. Some are more family based with small kids. Some are more old fashioned.

Most people have this notion that Mardi Gras exists only for one day, or perhaps the weekend before, and that's it, just a bacchanalia. But that's not true.

Mardi Gras begins on the Twelfth Night of Christmas in New Orleans with the Krewe of the Twelfth Night as they "parade" in a street car up St. Charles Avenue. And from then on, it gets serious and most outsiders have no idea.

I'm talking about balls. White tie and tails at least twice a week during the season. Black tie begins to feel like dressed down. Balls where women actually wear ball gowns and gloves and where the after parties are great, even if the majority of them are at the New Orleans Country Club or Yacht Club. I used to go to way too many of these things, usually with a Committee Man Invitation, which meant I wasn't a spectator up in the balcony of the ball and I wasn't masked for the ball in the Krewe (although I was a member of one Krewe) but I could dance after the first couple of songs and I could bring dates. I miss the balls.

I also miss the house parties. Picture these glorious ante bellum houses thrown open with bars and food and you would wander, in the Garden District, up and down St. Charles, ducking into various parties, eating a little, visiting a little, drinking a little, borrowing a bathroom (yay!), and visiting some more. And drinking some more. And maybe just a little bit more after that. The hosts were always gregarious and hospitable and you always knew them or the people you were with had known them for years. It was so comfortable and such a tremendous way to see Mardi Gras. Maybe the best way.

I also miss the Marching Krewes. They used to march from bar to bar Uptown where we lived. And there was a decrepit little bar across from our house where I think that the average age of the patrons may have been deceased or just shy of it. And the marchers used to come on by all morning. It was really very friendly.

Of course, actually, a lot of natives fled the City and today are probably on the beach in Florida or skiing in Colorado.

So, in honor of Mardi Gras, I gotta ask, as I used to do when I rode the floats myself, and women would ask for the really nice beads:

Hey! Show me your breasts!!!

And someone please get me a Hurricane. Damn, I miss New Orleans.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:07 AM | Comments (8)

February 04, 2005

Extraordinary Americans

For a number of reasons, none of which I have time to go into here, I have spent some precious minutes today reading Congressional Medal of Honor citations. These are extraordinary documents describing extraordinary Americans performing extraordinary deeds. I could never imagine myself, under the circumstances, performing as superlatively as these Americans have. The Medal of Honor is given to individual members of the United States armed forces who demonstrate conspicuous valor in action against an enemy force. The citations make for compelling reading and it is hard to tear yourself away from them, but they all have one thing in common: courage. Imagine, if you will, how you would have reacted if you were Navy Corpsman Donald E. Ballard:

BALLARD, DONALD E.

Rank and organization: Hospital Corpsman Second Class, U.S. Navy, Company M, 3d Battalion, 4th Marines, 3d Marine Division. Place and date: Quang Tri Province, Republic of Vietnam, 16 May 1968. Entered service at: Kansas City, Mo. Born: 5 December 1945, Kansas City, Mo. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life and beyond the call of duty while serving as a HC2c. with Company M, in connection with operations against enemy aggressor forces. During the afternoon hours, Company M was moving to join the remainder of the 3d Battalion in Quang Tri Province. After treating and evacuating 2 heat casualties, HC2c. Ballard was returning to his platoon from the evacuation landing zone when the company was ambushed by a North Vietnamese Army unit employing automatic weapons and mortars, and sustained numerous casualties. Observing a wounded marine, HC2c. Ballard unhesitatingly moved across the fire swept terrain to the injured man and swiftly rendered medical assistance to his comrade. HC2c. Ballard then directed 4 marines to carry the casualty to a position of relative safety. As the 4 men prepared to move the wounded marine, an enemy soldier suddenly left his concealed position and, after hurling a hand grenade which landed near the casualty, commenced firing upon the small group of men. Instantly shouting a warning to the marines, HC2c. Ballard fearlessly threw himself upon the lethal explosive device to protect his comrades from the deadly blast. When the grenade failed to detonate, he calmly arose from his dangerous position and resolutely continued his determined efforts in treating other marine casualties. HC2c. Ballard's heroic actions and selfless concern for the welfare of his companions served to inspire all who observed him and prevented possible injury or death to his fellow marines. His courage, daring initiative, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of extreme personal danger, sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Extraordinary, isn't it?

One problem with reading these is that you will be struck by how many of these men bear an asterisk next to their name, indicating that the award of posthumous.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:49 PM | Comments (1)

January 30, 2005

What's wrong with just, plain American?

I read a speech an an alumni magazine this weekend given by the president of the university in which he reflected on the civil rights struggle in the South and spoke about how "African-Americans" and "Anglo-Saxon Americans" joined hands and fought the good fight. Well, it was a good fight, no question about that. But what sent me over the edge was this pathetic example of academic, racial group think/categorization, speech. The good president meant, White. If he meant Anglo-Saxon American, he left out all of those of Italian, German, French, Polish, Russian, etc. heritage who did their part in the civil rights struggle. Besides, do we really need to point out that the Angles and the Saxons have not really been around much since, oh, the Roman occupation of Britain?

What's wrong with just plain American? It was good enough for my ancestors when they became American. They did not insist on some prefix to "honor their heritage". Besides, I think I've said this before, but claiming kinship with the entire African continent is just stupid. How many different languages are spoken in Africa? A lot. Too many for someone to claim a connection, credibly, to the entire continent.

Why aren't we happier about just being American? It is good enough for me.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:50 PM | Comments (9)

December 13, 2004

How did we get to this place, this Constitution?

As the presidential election has concluded and we wait for what will be a hideously expensive innauguration celebration, maybe it is not a bad time to consider what motivated our present system of government with its two tier system.

In a word, distrust. Distrust of central government, distrust of monarchy, distrust of the power of the crowds and the people, distrust of the office of the executive, distrust of bi-cameral legislatures (in part), and distrust of being ruled by anything other than direct democracy. That was the upshot of our Revolution, you know. We came out of it with a loathing for central government and for anyone else telling us what to do.

Don't believe me? Ask General Washington who tried to enlist troops in his national army only to be told things like, no thanks, we're citizens of New Jersey. Need more proof? Like at the Confederation Government formed after the Brits threw in the towel. It was a pure States Rights government with little to no room for a strong central voice. The CG could not borrow money or repay debts or raise or equip much in the way of a standing army. It didn't print currency or do anything much to regulate interstate commerce, such that some states even had their own custom services and tarrif systems set up. And the States liked it like that. One State, One Vote, was the rule at the CG level. No proportional voting, either, for States. Delaware counted as much as the much more populous New York.

Indeed, this problem with interstate commerce was one of the things that the framers of the Constitution intended the Constitution to address. See:

Section. 10. Clause 1: No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

Clause 2: No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

Some of these states were ruled by unicameral legislatures and didn't even have governors. Massachusetts was an exception. John Adams did their constitution and it provided for a bicameral legislature and even a popularly elected governor. Adams was a bit of a radical and ahead of his time. Maryland had a similar system but the governor there was chosen by the legislature.

When the States came together at the Constitutional Congress to replace the failing and failed CG, they were very distrustful. There's that word, again. They feared a strong central government and a strong executive and worried that they were planting the seeds for a future monarchy. James Madison who crafted the first plan with our balance of powers central government was not worried and his plan eventually carried the day, but it was highly influenced by those men who feared and distrusted the power to over-rule and rule-over the States. They added, in 1791, the 10th Amendment to clarify their intentions:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

This preserved the power of the States, or so they thought.

You know what I think? I think that the framers of the Constitution would have been horrified by the concept of unfunded mandates. I view these as the not very much talked about back door by which the Federal Government has, over the years, eroded States rights and destroyed the compact. But, hey, maybe that's just me.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:54 AM | Comments (1)

December 06, 2004

Delaware Water Gap

On Sunday, I was very near the Delaware Water Gap, a place probably not so very well known to those outside that area and so I thought I might write about it a little bit. Besides, having merely driven through it myself a couple of times, I wanted an excuse to learn more about it myself. Here is a nice view of it:

dwgpark.jpg

First, the DWP is a national park:

This park preserves 40 miles of the middle Delaware River and almost 70,000 acres of land along the river's New Jersey and Pennsylvania shores. At the south end of the park, the river cuts eastward through the Appalachian Mountains at the scenic Delaware Water Gap. A one-day auto tour of the park can include waterfalls, rural scenery, and historic Millbrook Village. Visitors can also canoe, hike, camp, swim, picnic, bicycle, crosscountry ski, and horseback ride. Fishing and hunting are permitted in season with state licenses.

Secondly, there is significant evidence of pre-historic habitation in the park.

Archeologists began their surveys in 1959, and by the mid 1960s, recognized that this area offered a rich and well preserved record of prehistoric occupation, beginning with the Paleo-Indian, the earliest known culture in the New World. Current theory suggests that during the Wisconsin glaciation period, 23,000 to 12,000 B.C., a land bridge existed between Asia and Alaska, vanishing around 8,000 B.C. Hunter-gatherers migrated across this land bridge following herds of caribou and other large mammals. This culture is recognized archeologically by distinctive fluted projectile points which are most commonly found in eastern North America as isolated finds. Three archeological sites within the recreation area contain evidence of this culture.

Later, this part of the country was an important fortified frontier during the French and Indian wars and during the revolutionary war. In 1758, the New Jersey legislature created the Military Trail of 16 fortified forts to protect against raids. The trail is still visible and used today. There's even a trail guide.

Here is a much more extensive monograph on the history of the DWG region.

You can get a sense of the eco-system at this comprehensive link. Unfortunately, this material concerning the Delaware River makes no mention of the recent oil spill "where up to 473,500 gallons of crude oil flowed out of a six-foot gash in the bottom of a tanker bound for a New Jersey refinery recently".

The DWG is part of a network in New Jersey called the Skylands, a "five-county region contains two national parks at its edges, 60,000 acres of state parkland, and a diverse and beautiful geography filled with lakes, rivers and picturesque hills dotted with farms."

This actually looks like a really fun place to go explore more. I'm glad I took the time to check it out here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:52 AM | Comments (2)

November 11, 2004

Thank You for my Freedoms

Last night, I attended a ceremony to present a wreath in honor of Veterans' Day. I had to attend since I helped organize it. We had the ceremony right before the Marine Corps Birthday Dinner that we also organized. It was well attended and we had a Lieutenant General from the Marines as our guest of honor. He spoke both at the dinner, which I did not stay for, and at our wreath ceremony. He spoke of the importance of veterans and of the "steely-eyed" men and women who are serving now.

As many of you may know, Veterans' Day started as Armistice day. It was the 11th minute, of the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month that the guns of the Great War stopped firing. That was the war to end all wars. Or so we thought. It was certainly horrific.

So, today, give thanks.

After the ceremony ended, I walked up to an older man. Must have been in his late sixties or early seventies. He had a chestful of medals on the left breast of his tuxedo jacket. I held out my hand to him and I said the following:

"Thank you for your service. I am not staying for the dinner tonight because I have to go home and read stories and bathe my children. Thank you for all you've done in the past so that I can enjoy this now." And I shook his hand.

He looked startled and then genuinely pleased. He shook my hand back and smiled and thanked me for thanking him.

And I went home and read stories to my children, secure in the knowledge that there are brave men and women out there making it possible for me to enjoy my freedom.

Thank you to all veterans.

My thanks and gratitude would be incomplete, I feel, if I did not also thank the families of the veterans. Those men and women who keep the family together while their soldier goes off to fight. They are mostly unsung, these home bound warriors, but they deserve our thanks no less and have suffered their loved one's absence in ways we may not fully comprehend. Thank you.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2004

Battle of White Plains, 1776

If you've ever spent any time at all looking at the history of the Revolutionary War in this country, you know that it was a damn close thing. If Howe had taken Philadelphia that winter of 1776, if he had pushed across the Delaware and taken the city, that might have been the end of our Revolution. After all, Howe had chased Washington out of Long Island, off of Manhattan, and across New Jersey to Pennsylvania. In that time of loss after loss, not only battles and skirmishes, mind you, but supplies and wagon trains with clothes and food, there was only one bright spot -- the Battle of White Plains. There, the Continental Army stopped the British and the Hessians cold. The Army escaped intact with a victory, of sorts, under its belt and it retreated in good order. It was the first time in this campaign that the Continentals could claim a victory, even if they were driven from the field.

You can visit the battlefield, or parts of it, in White Plains, NY. Have you ever visited an historical battlefield before? It is a place that is made holy, consecrated by the deaths of the men who fought and died there. Sometimes they fought for good reasons and died simply because of the stupidity of the men who led them. Sometimes they fought and died because they had to. Either way, it is a solemn thing to visit a battlefield.

I took the kids and set off to find the last remaining Revolutionary War battlefield in Westchester County on Sunday. It was deserted. The children and I were the only ones there. It was located in the middle of a residential neighborhood. It is called, Miller Hill.

millerhillsign2.JPG

The actual monument plaque is:

millerhill2.JPG

I enjoyed the visit very much. It was transporting to stand in the the lines where our forefathers stood and waited for the Hessians to charge with bayonets fixed. The lines looked like this:

viewoflines.JPG

and like this:

viewoflines2.JPG

There is something transformative about the laughter of children. Even the laughter of children at a former battle field. I was happy to leave the past behind to watch the Girl Child and the Boy Child chase each other around the sun dappled field, stopping to hold hands and share pretzels. I think the kids had a good time, even if they didn't really understand what happened there. In fact, for more information generally about the Battle of White Plains, go here. The Girl Child, thanks to some of the historical fiction I have lying around the house, is familiar with the concept of Dragoons and was not a little bit disappointed when she didn't see any at the field. The Boy Child was also disappointed, but that was because we ran out of pretzels, I think.

After we left the park, we stopped quickly by Gen. Washington's headquarters, a national historic monument and park. I snapped a quick shot of it through the fence (the place was closed):

washingtonhq.JPG

All in all, it was a lovely way to spend a morning.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:02 AM | Comments (5)

July 25, 2004

True Multiculturalism

We have successfully blended two cultures in our house. My wife is Norwegian and I am an American Jew. Last night, my daughter wanted to clink glasses again at the dinner table. So, I turned to her and said: "Skoal, bubbe." My wife just cracked up and I realized we have acheived the melting pot right in our little house.

Welcome to America!

P.S. My spelling of "skoal" is an approximation because I couldn't get the right Norwegian letter on my keyboard at home.

UPDATE: Correct spelling is: Skål.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:31 PM | Comments (4)

July 21, 2004

Life Insurance

I beat the NY Times up all the time, but sometimes they get it right. There has been an interesting series on the sale and marketing of inappropriate financial products, including but not limited to life insurance and mutual funds, to soldiers. Apparently, for as little as $1500, you too can buy congressional intercession on behalf of your sleazy business practices. The first article is here and the second one, run today, is here. Go read the second one to understand my comment about how cheap it is to buy access.

This practice, by the way, stands in sharp contrast to the actions of the most prominent Americans during the Civil War. I have been reading, at night, the McCullough biography of Theodore Roosevelt, called, "Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt". The President's father, during the Civil War, was instrumental in creating the Allotment Commission. I find nothing of any consequence about it after a Google search, but let me explain.

The men went off to fight in the Civil War and left their familes and women behind, often made destitute by the lack of income after the men left their civilian jobs. Roosevelt, and others, conceived of the Allotment Commission. They presented it to Lincoln and secured his agreement. What was it? Simple. It was a mechanism by which Union soldiers could allot some portion of their pay to be subtracted from their pay check and transmitted directly back home. No one else had ever thought of this. Roosevelt traveled to practically every encampment and preached to the men the value of this service. Many signed up and many millions of dollars were sent home. This was a selfless act on Rooselvelt's part.

We dishonor the memory of the men who toiled on behalf of the common soldier, without recompense, by permitting these scum to prey upon our soldiers. It is just shameful.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:25 AM | Comments (1)

July 20, 2004

Gratitude is, what?

Gratitude is, according to Webster:

\Grat"i*tude\, n. [F. gratitude, LL. gratitudo, from gratus agreeable, grateful. See Grate, a.] The state of being grateful; warm and friendly feeling toward a benefactor; kindness awakened by a favor received; thankfulness.

Gratitude is hard. It leaves you feeling obligated to another. That person has rendered you a service or done you a favor. You are obliged to that person. You owe him or her something. It makes you feel, I don't know exactly, but sometimes, maybe, a little uneasy. Especially if you didn't ask that person to do something for you or on your behalf. You owe, at minimum, a thank you to that person.

Grand Central Station, in NYC, since September 11, 2001, has been guarded full time by members of the NY State National Guard. These civilian soldiers stand there, armed, and guard the terminal. They have been taken away from their lives and their families and they stand and walk and watch the terminal. Sometimes they look for suspicious people and sometimes, like me, I have to think that they are wondering whether that tall brunette walking through the terminal is not wearing any underwear at all or just a really thin thong. Nonetheless, it is clear that they protect us. It is clear that they do so at personal risk to themselves and at a cost to their families and employers.

I have been thinking about these part-time soldiers for awhile now. I feel gratitude towards them. I am grateful for their sacrifice in making me safe and, in the process, giving up their own lives for my benefit. Today, and not for the first time, I thanked two of them and expressed my gratitude.

I said to each of them, something along the lines of the following:

Excuse me. I just wanted to thank you for your service. Thank you for being away from your families and keeping me safe during my commute. I'm sure a lot of people think that when they see you, but I wanted to tell you. Thank you.

Gratitude is hard to express. It can make you feel goofy, standing there in the middle of Grand Central Station, thanking a total stranger. But it seemed worth it. Each of the soldiers I thanked seemed surprised and then happy.

It was the least I could do, I figured.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:44 AM | Comments (6)

July 06, 2004

I took my own advice today

and took myself off to the NY Public Library to see the exhibit of the Thomas Jefferson handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence in which he underlined the bits taken out by the committee before its adoption by the Continental Congress. I posted about this exhibit before here.

I had a number of different impressions. First, I was surprised how legible his handwriting was. He clearly, at least to my inexpert eye, used a quill pen. Second, his spelling was conventional. He spelled the word course as course, and not "courfe", as the contemporaneous newspaper printings of the Declaration did. Third, the ink was brown and faded but packed an emotional punch. I can't explain it, but I was quite moved and actually blurted out loud, "oh, my", when I read the first sentence. Fourth, the draft penned by TJ actually contained a scathing denunciation of slavery and he blamed the King for importing the institution to the colonies and then for inciting the slaves to take up arms against the colonists. I thought it was interesting enough that I will type it out here from the copy they gave out at the library. It appears in the section of the document listing the colonists grievances against the King:


he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people, who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished dye, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase the liberty of which he has deprived them by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

If you are in or can get to NY, I highly recommend going to see this.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:42 PM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2004

America, etc.

I am feeling pretty damn dapper today. I have a rare victory under my belt from yesterday, and let me tell you, what I convinced the judge to do yesterday is something rarely accomplished. I am wearing a seersucker suit with an orange* and blue tie and I stopped to get my shoes shined in Grand Central Station before continuing on to work. Yes, pretty dapper indeed. I haven't worn these shoes in a long time and they are beautiful -- purchased before I had children -- monk strap shoes from J. M. Weston.

So, I was sitting there, feeling dapper and relaxed as this very nice young man from somewhere below the U.S. Southern border with Mexico (I really don't know where he was from and didn't want to ask) put a mirror shine on these shoes. (Digression: If you haven't worn your shoes in a while, get them shined, the leather needs the polish and will soak it up. Also, use shoe trees when you take your shoes off). It's an interesting feeling to sit down in Grand Central and watch the ebb and flow of the race tide as people hurry this way and that way in their haste to get to work. You sit elevated when you get your shoes shined and so you are looking down, a little, at this pageant of humanity. They have newspapers at the stand, but I am a people watcher and I prefer to watch the crowd. No startling observations to report from my crowd watching. In fact, as there were way too few attractive young women in light summer dresses to observe, I turned my thoughts to the young man shining my shoes.

He did a first rate job. Shining shoes is not complicated but it is very hard work to do right and to do it right all day long. Some people just swipe the polish on and leave a surface shine when they are finished. This fellow worked the polish into the leather of the shoe. To do that requires the application of some force. I tipped him $5 on a $3 shine when he finished and thanked him sincerely so he knew I noticed how hard he worked and that I appreciated it. Remember, the money is nice but the kind word lingers in the memory long after the money is spent.

But, I was thinking about this young man as I walked away in my shiny, spiffy shoes and I realized that there must be something still very special about this country of ours that people think it is worthwhile to cross dangerous and guarded borders to come here and shine shoes. That they will have a better life here. That they may be shining shoes today, but they will be paying someone tomorrow to shine their shoes. This is still the land of opportunity for many, many people. We may forget what a special place we live in, but look around you more carefully and I bet you can find reminders all around you of people who have risked much to live here.

This thought seems particularly appropriate today as today is the anniversary of the first vote, taken in 1776, on the Declaration of Independence. You know, the men who signed that document were courageous, don't you? That these men were marked down on British lists for execution as traitors if captured, their lands forfeit, their families thrown out onto the street. These men knew that when they signed this document what they were risking. This makes them heroes in my book because they took the risks knowingly and willingly and not in the heat of passion. Would they sign it today? Would you? Interestingly, I recall that sometime in the 80's, the Declaration was reprinted in the form of a petition and college students in Iowa (or maybe Kansas) took to the streets to ask people to sign it. Distressingly, most people did not recognize it and a startlingly high number refused to sign on the grounds that the document was too radical.

So, today, as I walk the streets of Manhattan in my dapper little suit, with my shiny shoes, I feel grateful to be an American, grateful that my ancestors took the leap of faith and got on that leaky boat in Europe and came over here, and I feel even more grateful that this is still the country which attracts those ambitious people who want to build a better life for themselves and their families. I think that as long as remain a magnet for these kinds of people, we will endure.

Anyways, that's my little thought for the morning. Thanks for reading.

* As for the orange tie, I am, perhaps, leaving myself open to being accused of making an unintentional political sartorial statement today. Today, in 1690 the army of England's Protestant King William III defeated the Roman Catholic King James II in the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland (Now celebrated on July 12 as "The Battle of the Orange" ). I intend to give all Irish bars a miss today and hope no one notices!

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

June 27, 2004

Declaration of Independence Exhibit

There is a very interesting looking exhibit at the NY Public Library, main branch at 41st and Fifth, on the Declaration of Independence. The Library is displaying the copy of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson's hand, several other landmark versions of the document, early newspaper printings, and a letter from Benjamin Franklin to George Washington. This handwritten copy by Thomas Jefferson is one of only two complete copies known to be in existence. I'm going to definitely get over to check it out. Anyone want to come see it with me?

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2004

Memorial Day

Memorial Day approaches this year with more poignancy than I can ever recall before. So many of our nation's soldiers have been killed or hurt. So many others have committed acts of bravery and self-sacrifice so stirring and exceptional that they seem almost unimaginable to me as I sit in the calm of my office. I ask that all of you take some time this weekend and reflect on the sacrifices made by those who came before us and those who are fighting today.

Today we will have a wreath laying ceremony at an organization I belong to in honor of these men and women. I co-chaired the committee arranging this ceremony and I invite you, at 11:45 A.M. (EST), to join in virtually and take a moment in silence, bow your head, and join us as we pay tribute and remember and honor.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:05 AM | Comments (0)

April 30, 2004

RIP: The last Oldsmobile

I saw a photograph this morning in the NY Times showing the last Oldsmobile rolling off the production line. That's it. No more Oldsmobiles. It got me thinking a little bit, as much as I could since it was 6:30 a.m. and I had not had any coffee, about the automobile as icon in America. This, I grant you, is not an original thought (but there are not many original thoughts anyway, so WTF -- sorry, still no coffee).

The car is romance and possibilities. There was another article in the Times talking about GPS and road trips. Road trips are what I mean by possibilities. If you grow up in the suburbs, nothing much happens without the car. For me and my family, that was the Oldsmobile.

My father was very clear on this point: America has been very good to our family and we will only buy American cars. So, for me, growing up meant that when I turned 16, it was driving the Delta 88 with a v-8 engine that just blew away my friend's cute little BMW. Not that I would ever do that. Driving too fast on I-287. Nope, must have been some other idiot with Iron Maiden or AC/DC (hey, I was 16!) blaring out of the speakers so loud that I blew one of them.

The car was painted a truly ugly brown. I loved it, especially because it smelled like old cigarettes and spilled coffee. It used to be the car my father drove to the train station every day. That smelled forbidden and grown up and serious. Everything I probably wasn't but desperately wanted to be.

That really brings me to the point I had been thinking about for a couple of days now. The car is not just the American icon, it is our special meaningful smell memory (damn, I can't get this phrase right). If France, thanks to Proust, has the madeleine, we have the smells of cars that bring us back to our youth. Can't most of you close your eyes and remember the smell of the school bus? That mix of diesel fumes and plastic and rubber and who knows what else that when you smell it you are a kid again? And you haven't done your homework?

That's why, for me at least, the car is an icon. That damn smell makes me think of my childhood. And I still miss the sound of that Oldsmobile peeling out of the school parking lot. Oh, I also miss the sex we used to have in that car.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:37 AM | Comments (2)