September 30, 2008

No Sympathy, No Idea

I'm about ready to eviscerate the next idiot I run across in the blogosphere who says, "I don't have any sympathy for the borrowers. It's not my fault if they're idiots. They should have known better than to think they could really afford a house." Actually, I already took a fair swipe at the last one. He was dense enough it probably didn't leave much of a mark, though. I'll do a more thorough job on the next one.

Leaving aside for now the classist implications that these people didn't deserve an arrangement that allowed them an opportunity to accumulate a sliver of wealth--only because if I don't, this post will consist solely of hateful gibberish--these statements tell me two things about the person making them. First, they tell me that they didn't start with much sympathy. Second, they tell me they can't do math.

The reason people can't make these mortgage payments is not that they couldn't afford their original payments. It's that their payment amounts changed in ways they hadn't been prepared for.

There are two types of risks to the lender in making loans. The first is the risk that the borrower will not make the payments. This risk may or may not be covered by the collateral, especially if the collateral is overvalued at the time of the loan.

The second is that you won't earn interest from the loan quickly enough to cover the decrease in the value of the money you put into it. With an average 3% rate of inflation, the principal of a $100,000 loan is worth about $40,000 at the end of a 30-year repayment term. Any interest rate has to be higher than the rate of inflation in order for a lender to make money off a loan.

In a housing bubble, with interest rates indices held below inflation rates by the Fed's determination to keep the War on Terror from having a visible impact on the economy, lending to borrowers who represented some unknown additional risk beyond that of regular borrowers, lenders didn't like their odds. In order to push some of that risk off their plates, they made the borrowers liable for changes in interest rates, which for at least the last 30 years have varied with inflation as a matter of policy.

Adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) protect lenders by passing changing rates on to the borrower. Good Math, Bad Math did a great job of explaining why that didn't get rid of as much risk to the lender as claimed. What it did do, however, is greatly increase the risk to the borrower.

"Of course it did!" the sympathy-challenged holler. "How could they not have known that an adjustable rate mortgage could be adjusted upward?"

They did know. What they didn't know, because nobody told them, is how far they could go up and how quickly. Following this requires a little sympathy, but stick with me if you can.

Say you're a borrower, excited at the prospect of buying your first home (or being able to buy a home again after you filed bankruptcy years ago to deal with the lingering costs of the cancer). You're talking to a mortgage broker about what you can afford. The broker says, "Well, with this ARM, you'll have a starting rate of about 6%. Your take-home income is about $1,800 a month. Figuring that a third of your take-home goes into your mortgage, which is less than you're paying in rent, you can afford a $100,000 mortgage."

Now, a $100,000 mortgage buys you a one-bedroom bungalow in an interesting neighborhood, but you can give the kids the bedroom and sleep on the couch if it means you're going to get them into a house. And a decrease in your housing costs...oh, wait. With taxes and such, it's not really that big a decrease. Huh. "So what happens if interest rates go up?"

The broker says, "If they go up a full percent, your monthly payment will go from $600 to $665. That's 37% of your take-home instead of 33%."

Well, there goes the rest of the money you save by not renting. A few bucks more a month, too. But if you have to, one of you will get a second job to get the kids into that house. "Okay. We'll do it."

Sounds simple, right? Remember what I said about interest rates being held below inflation? What the broker didn't tell you was that interest rates were two to four percentage points lower than they had been through the late nineties. Flash forward two years, from 2004 to 2006, through the inflation caused by rising gas prices, and your interest rate is now 10%.

There are people whose credit cards don't charge them 10% interest. And those cards give them frequent flyer miles.

Your broker told you what would happen if rates went up 1%. What happened when they went up 4%? Your mortgage payment is now about $880 a month. Even with small raises over the last two years, that's nearly 50% of your take-home. If you're lucky, one of you can work that second job and just hold it together. If not, well, there aren't as many second jobs as there were before gas prices went up and the price of everything else is so much higher now too. You love your little bungalow, down to the drafty back door, but you're now in default on your mortgage.

It isn't because you didn't ask what could happen to your mortgage. It's because the person who should have given you better information either didn't know enough or didn't care enough to give you a full answer. If it helps, your broker is watching the value of his/her IRA plummet and thinking it might be a couple extra years before retirement.

Yeah, I know. It doesn't help.

For what it's worth, you have my sympathy.

September 29, 2008

Acting Unafraid

In the current election, we have one candidate who sees other world leaders as essentially rational beings with whom we may find common ground if we negotiate cautiously. We have one candidate who views the rest of the world as potential enemies to be punished until they become allies. Completely aside from the question of whose approach is likely to gain us more allies, these worldviews have practical consequences in high-pressure decision-making.

Just past midnight, Petrov received a computer report he'd dreaded all his military career to see, the computer captured a nuclear military missile being launched from the US, destination Moscow.

In the event of such an attack, the Soviet Union’s strategy protocol was to launch an immediate all-out nuclear weapons counterattack against the United States with nuclear power, and immediately afterwards inform top political and military figures. From there, it would be taken a decision to further the military offensive on America.

Twenty-five years ago, one Russian officer named Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov faced a choice between giving in to the paranoia of the Cold War or believing that Americans were rational people who didn't want to destroy the world any more than he did. Because he chose to stand against irrational fear, we're still here.

It's a new unwinnable war these days, but the stakes are still high and the battle is the same: paranoia versus audacity. None of us faces Petrov's choice alone, but it's still the same choice. Can we do less than our "enemy" did?

Via Charlie Stross.

September 28, 2008

Recipe for Dealing with Disaster

For Disaster
1 mother in hospital with acute heart problems
1 father who is coping with less than his usual annoying cheer
1 year already studded with too many family problems

For Dealing
1 date finally scheduled for surgery
1 sibling who can share responsibility
1 friend who has a problem father can help solve
1 evening out with friends
1 Cuban roast pork shoulder with fixings
Choice of rum and coke or gin and tonic
1 viewing of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
Liberal dose of snark

Shake with laughter and release pressure valve.

Feel better soon, Nancy.

September 27, 2008

Drinker's Diary

I've been drinking a lot lately.

Don't worry; this is definitely not going to turn into one of those blog posts. It's more a question of scheduling than anything else. Last Sunday, The Happy Gnome had a whiskey tasting event as part of their Octoberfest. While my husband and I were there, we discovered that they were starting up their brewmaster dinners again on Wednesday with Brewery Ommegang, just in time for my birthday. And today was the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild's Autumn Brew Review, for which we'd forgotten we had tickets.

Oof. While I like my drinks, I average two or three a week. Here's what I've had to drink this week, with tasting notes where appropriate. We passed drinks for everyone to try, so some of these, I had only a sip or two, but that's still a lot of drinking.

Scotch & Whiskey Fest
Connemara Cask Strength: Like a little campfire in the mouth. That's a compliment.

Isle of Arran Sassacaia finish: What port would taste like if port were scotch. Yum.

Isle of Arran 10-year: Exactly like the Sassacaia but without the port flavor. A sweet, winey scotch.

Mcallan 30-year: Smells great but tastes strongly woody. Not worth what one will be charged for it.

Peat Monster: Very strong smoke balanced throughout by sweet vanilla. The flavors ran out together.

Sazerac 6-year Rye: Nice, with a nearly chewy grain finish.

Speyburn: Nothing special. A perfectly servicable Speyside.

Wisers 18-year: An aged version of the fastest-growing Canadian brand. A smooth sipping whiskey.

Yamakazi 18-year: What vanilla extract should taste like. Very smooth, round flavor, almost too smooth for my tastes.

I tried a few more, including Oak Cross and Aberfeldy 21-year, but I was burned out by then. It all just tasted like whiskey, which isn't bad but wasn't the point.

Ommegang Beer Dinner
I just scanned the menus for this one.

There's not much else to say, except that everything worked exactly the way it was supposed to, except maybe the nuts in the panna cotta. The food made the beer taste amazing, and the beer complemented the food perfectly. This was made even more amazing by the fact that the chef hasn't had a drink in two years. He was working from smell and from knowledge of how the beer was put together.

Speaking of knowledge, hearing from the Ommegang brewmaster was a treat. He seemed a little shy, but he warmed up to questions well.

Autumn Brew Review
The weird thing about craft brew festivals is that you'd think it would be easier to get drunk than it is. Not to say that no one was drunk, but I don't understand how they do it. If it's good beer, and it generally is, I get full before I'm more than a wee bit tipsy.

The standouts at this festival, which has more than just Minnesotan beers, were the Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout from Leinenkugel (yes, Leinenkugel), the Three Feet Deep and Fallen Apple from Furthermore Beer, and the Frostop rootbeer. Abita's Purple Haze and Strawberry Lager were just weird, as was the Coney Island Freaktoberfest Oktoberfest from Shmaltz Brewing. The others are listed below, but I'm almost certainly forgetting a few of the "just a sip" beers, as not everything is listed in the program.

Avery Brewing, New World Porter
Boulder Beer Company, Hazed and Infused
Capital Brewery, Baltic Porter
Great Waters Brewing Company, Pflugenpflagen
Left Hand Brewing, Milk Stout
McCann's Food & Brew, Flame
Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, Anniversary Tripel
Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, Fresh Hop 2008
New Belgium Brewing, 1554
New Holland Brewing, Golden Cap
New Holland Brewing, Ichabod Pumpkin Ale
Peak Organic, Maple Oat Ale
South Shore Brewery, Applefest Ale
South Shore Brewery, Herbal Cream Ale
South Shore Brewery, Coffee Mint Stout
Southern Tier Brewery, Cherry Saison Imperial Oak Aged Cherry Ale
Surly Brewing, Coffee Bender
Vine Park Brewing, Rock Hopper Red Ale

September 26, 2008

Monetarism and the Housing Bubble

For Becca, who asked why some of us fogeys were talking about the housing bubble crash as though it had implications beyond a bailout.

Monetarism is the basic economic principle the U.S. currently operates under. To simplify greatly, monetarism says that the health of our economy is directly dependent on the amount of money in it. It's a top-down ideology that treats the economy as a monolith, with no regard for differences among industries or for non-monetary events, but it has some appeal in its simplicity.

Since the Carter administration, the heads of the Federal Reserve, all three of them, have been monetarists. The setting of the Fed Rate on a periodic basis is a monetarist policy decision, determining how much money is available in the economy in the form of loans. Lower interest rates make more money available. The broad acceptance of monetarism is seen in the way that investors eagerly await the Fed's decisions on rates and the way the stock market can swing after a decision.

Alan Greenspan was the second monetarist Fed chairman. His reputation was made by his handling of the 1987 stock market crash. He was reappointed by Democrats and Republicans and was one of the most trusted people in government. Despite overseeing the economy during the dot com bubble, his reputation remained intact until the collapse of the housing bubble.

The housing bubble itself and the problems stemming from it may be Greenspan's fault. The dot com bubble burst in early 2001. In September, America's confidence was shattered. Markets fell further. The Fed responded by drastically dropping interest rates and flooding banks with cheap cash. Those rates stayed ridiculously low until rising gas prices triggered general inflation a couple of years ago.

The banks, with their "responsibility to shareholders" (see also this), had to do something with that money. Because the average consumer was already overextended with debt, because much of the production for our economy has shifted overseas, because there was no political will to invest in infrastructure, because confidence at the top doesn't mean everyone is confident, the banks had to create a place to invest that money. There was nowhere real to put it, so we got a bubble instead.

This bubble is largely a failure of monetarism. It shows monetarism to be a myopic, overly simplistic theory. In addition, it's a failure of laissez-faire capitalism, which has generally been sold to us right alongside monetarism, since monetarism was created and adopted first by libertarians. Anarchic markets and industry are not the answer. They're the problem.

We all know (at least all of us who can think) that strict monetarism, if it wasn't the answer last time, is not the answer this time. We're just not sure what comes next.

September 24, 2008

Yeah, Yeah

It's that time of year again. Since people have hinted that I'm to watch their blogs, I'll add links later.

In the meantime, enjoy the traditional Renaissance Festival birthday song. The "happy birthday"s are sung in a group, with a loud grunt at the end of each. The changing lyrics are started by whomever sings the loudest and continued by everyone who knows them. The "but" is very cheerful. The rest is a dirge. If I've missed a verse, traditional or not, please add it in the comments.

Happy birthday, huh.
Happy birthday, huh.
All the world's in dark despair
People dying everywhere, but

Happy birthday, huh.
Happy birthday, huh.
I like puppies, yes I do
Boiled or baked or in a stew, but

Happy birthday, huh.
Happy birthday, huh.
Now that you're the age you are
Your demise cannot be far, but

Happy birthday, huh.
Happy birthday, huh.
I'm a leper can't you see
Get your birthday hug from me, but

Happy birthday, huh.
Happy birthday, huh.
May the cities in your wake
Burn like candles on your cake, but

Happy birthday, huh.
Happy birthday, huh.
You have lived a year too long
You've had to hear this stupid song, but

Happy birthday, huh.
Happy birthday, huh.

Janie knows the perfect birthday gift for me. A story. Just don't pay attention to the part where she casts aspersions on my ass. She's never seen my ass, though not for lack of asking.

Greg gave me another Stephanie to share my birthday with. How cool is that?

Dr. Isis has a lovely, immodest proposal that isn't really for the occasion, but I'm going to pretend it is anyway.

Mike is exaggerating my writing prowess. He's right about almost everything else, though.

Betul has posted pictures from her trip to Turkey. These are from the Black Sea region and so beautiful I'll even lay off asking her for the Istanbul pictures--for a while.

Monica has updated her blog after far too long a hiatus. Now this is starting to feel like an occasion.

September 23, 2008

World (and Otherworldly) Music

Betül left me a link to this Gogol Bordello video in the comments today.

I'm so glad she did. I was vaguely aware of the existence of the band. I was completely clueless that I need their music right now!

In return, I was hoping to find her a fun song from my favorite Celtic, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, punk, thrash, folk band with heavy blues influences. I didn't find quite what I was looking for, because the band's silliest days are long behind them. But I did find something so totally unexpected that I had to share.

The song is "The Microorganism" by Boiled in Lead. It was written in the early eighties, and well, let's just say it wasn't originally about the Goa'uld. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to hear it the same way again.

If you like the music, there's more from the band and the label here.

September 22, 2008

Birthday Presents, The Hard Way

It was a craft fair, I think. I'm not sure why I was there. My mother was there with me because I was thirteen. The earrings--purple and gold and dangly--were there because I had to have them.


I looked at my mother. "I can buy them myself." I'd certainly earned the money. Babysitting was not my favorite activity.


"What? Why not?" There was nothing wrong with the earrings, even given a mother's weird perspective.

"You're not getting earrings right now."


What followed may have been my first knock-down, drag-out with my mother. It was almost certainly the first public one. I'd always been a fairly compliant child--well-trained, shall we say. But babysitting money was supposed to be my money, and she was being completely arbitrary. We didn't leave the fair on the best of terms.

I almost forgave her a month or two later when the earrings turned up as part of my birthday present. Almost. I gave in to the point of not asking whether she'd already bought them when she decided I couldn't. If she hadn't, I didn't want to know. I still don't. Like the elopement that precedes your regular wedding ceremony, there are some things you just don't discuss with your parents.

The sad thing is that I should have known. She'd done the same thing months earlier when she told me I was too young to see Prince's Purple Rain concert (which I was, at least at the start of the concert), then put a ticket in my Christmas stocking. I couldn't pay for that one with babysitting, so there was less argument, but it was definitely a precedent.

I learned after that, though. No more purple presents.

September 21, 2008

Thoughts on a Wedding

Some random thoughts and moments from yesterday's wedding:

  • A kilt is always appropriate at a wedding. It gives people with nothing in common but the couple something to talk about.
  • The thing that annoys me the most about a religious wedding ceremony is the way it shortchanges the role of the couple's community.
  • I'd never realized before that when the bride and groom face each other for their vows, each is also facing the other's representatives, making the vows to them as well.
  • If a minister wants to speak of marital disagreements as an opportunity for each party to be "perfected," he might want to avoid referring to it as the "friction" of marriage.
  • The people who behave the best while the minister is making unwitting sexual innuendos are those most likely to make them themselves outside the ceremony.
  • If one has a recently divorced friend in the crowd, one might want to make sure one's friend is not going to the wedding alone, especially if the ex will also be there.
  • The hour between the ceremony and the reception is the perfect time to nip off to a local bar with friends and have a better beer than will be served at the reception.
  • If the crowd is large enough, you will see someone you'd given up on seeing again.
  • If the crowd is large enough and there is a place for it, someone will be inspired to duck into a closet or some such and have sex at the reception.
  • The staff will know about this.
  • They will gossip.
  • Sit with the photographers at dinner.
  • My husband's photography has fans among professional photographers. ("It's like meeting Jesus!")
  • The hot young thing about whom everyone is talking is off limits, guys. (Married and not looking to be flirted with.)
  • Wedding cake is always better with fruit in it.
  • Someone will choke up while giving a toast.
  • Someone will make reference to the bride's ex, or the groom's, or both.
  • Someone will have been toasting already and not be quite as intelligible as usual.
  • Four hours into the reception is too long to wait for the dancing.
  • Even fabulous shoes need to be broken in again after sitting in the closet for months.
  • I still cry at weddings, at least the good ones that have been a long time coming.
  • This was one of the good ones.

September 20, 2008

Busy Day

We're off to see a friend properly married. (From her description of the shower gifts, her parents took care of the improper bits.) This is the third busy day in a string of busy days, so blogging falls by the wayside today. Instead, go read some of the folks I've been reading lately in my occasional spare moments.

Samia is being insightful about students setting their paths in stone too early.

PhysioProf is venting his spleen about the current financial crisis. It may not be terribly deep, but it's deeply satisfying.

Dr. Isis is laying it down on why and when someone else's behavior is not blog fodder.

Greg is looking into whether McCain not using email means more than just that he's out of touch with technology.

Jessica is exploring a particularly epic fail at the intersection of art and work for hire.

Kelly is counting the ways in which people fail to comprehend that he and his wife don't watch television.


September 19, 2008

Do I Do That?

So I was at the local ScienceBlogs million comment party last night. I was talking to Amanda Laden about something to do with Greg's blog. She started a comment, obviously meant to lead to some other point, with, "There was the guy you were arguing with recently."

I though, Let's see, most recently. "Do you mean X?"

"No." She shook her head. "I know X."

"You don't mean Y?" That was moderately high-profile, as low-profile internet slap fights go.

She waved a hand dismissively.

I thought harder. "Well, I've been going back and forth with Z a bit lately over the election."

She frowned. "No, that wasn't it either."

We never figured out who it was, and I never did find out what the rest of her point was going to be. I did, however, discover that it's possible, just barely possible, that I have a tendency to get into arguments in the blogosphere. Who knew?

September 18, 2008

The Secret Liberal Agenda

You've seen it, heard it, read it. You've seen the people who say, "Yeah, what Obama is saying isn't so bad [or even, is great], but if he gets into power he'll XX," where XX is "put everyone on welfare" or "put terrorists in his cabinet" or "really try to teach the Kama Sutra to kindergartners."

Up until yesterday, I thought these were either people whose meds needed tweaking or Republicans cynically trying to obscure Obama's message. After yesterday, I finally get it. The reason that so many conservatives think liberals have a secret agenda is that they can't talk about their own real agenda in public.

You've seen the video by now, the yahoo at the Republican convention talking about bombing Iran. You may have thought he was an outlier, someone put on the web because he's an extremist. Watch it again. Watch how he switches back and forth between being elated that he's somewhere where he can speak his mind and being nervous that maybe he still shouldn't be saying this.

This is a man who knows he's telling secrets. This is a man who is not being who he feels he needs to be when he's at home. He doesn't even look like the same man he is when he's being public.

When the Republicans are hiding so much, is it any wonder they think that Democrats are doing the same thing? Of course, what they don't get is that liberals don't have to hide. That permissive atmosphere that scares conservatives so badly is just freedom to a liberal. Liberals have the freedom to be who they want to be, dress in any ridiculous fashion that appeals to them, and speak their minds about what they want to accomplish. It's just that simple.

It almost makes me feel bad for conservatives. Then I see something like this video and remember that there's a reason they have to hide.

September 16, 2008

Why Social Security Isn't Private

The last time the stock markets took a big downturn, in 2002, an interesting thing happened. It wasn't just those with 401(k)s/403(b)s and IRAs who were affected, although they were. By that point, 401(k)s had been in existence for over 20 years, about half of many people's working lifetimes. People nearing retirement age watched the stocks in their savings decrease in value by about one-third over seven months and decided they couldn't afford to retire. Others had already retired and had to draw out a much larger percentage of their savings than planned to meet their expenses.

Workers earning pensions were affected too, even though a change in the market doesn't affect the monthly amounts already owed to them. Federal regulations require that companies pre-fund much of their employees' pension benefits, and most of these funds are held in stocks. When the stock markets plunged, employers lost millions, perhaps billions, of dollars in pension funding. But their liabilities, the amounts they would some day have to pay out to retirees, didn't decrease. Companies suddenly owed their pension plans--big time.

This took companies by surprise, since they'd been happily riding the tech bubble with the rest of us. Bad surprises are not good for the stock price of a public company, and over the next few years, many companies decided that responsibility to their shareholders meant they couldn't have another surprise like this one. They froze their pension plans. Put simply, a pension freeze means that employees--new employees or all employees--stop earning additional benefits. What they have at the time of the freeze is what they have when they retire.

Most companies that froze their pension plans replaced them with a 401(k) or something similar. In essence, they shifted the burden of stock market fluctuations--the risk of having to deal with something like what we're seeing this year--onto their employees. Now it will be the employees, not the companies, looking at the stock market and deciding what they can and can't afford.

This shifting of employees onto the nonexistent mercy of the market had recently slowed down. Fewer companies made the switch in 2007, and very few new companies have announced freezes in 2008. However, with the markets taking another dive, and with new pension funding legislation taking effect this year, that could change rapidly. Even more people may soon be hitched to the rollercoaster that an unregulated market becomes.

Now imagine yourself at the end of 2007, having just told the boss to piss off, having made an ass of yourself at the best holiday party ever, planning to retire January first and live off your 401(k). Then remember what happened to the markets in January. Then remember what's been happening to prices all year. Unless you bought an annuity (which you should have done anyway, but that's another post) with a cost of living increase built into it, or have a small pension from a frozen plan, your Social Security payment is the only part of your retirement income that is going up instead of straight down.

And that is why your Social Security is not invested in the market.

Update: Reminder to self--no blogging when sleepy. All of the above was written in response to Al Franken's ad supporting Social Security in its current, secure form. This is one of the reasons I support Franken.

When even Warren Buffet stands up and says that the stock market return assumptions on which we pin our hopes for retirement are pollyannaish, it's ridiculous that we still have politicians talking about privatizing Social Security (which Coleman has, even though he calls it something else) as though the potential for reward could outweigh the risk. Social Security is there to carry us through when nothing else does. If we put it in the hands of the people who got us into the current financial mess, we might as well just call it Social.

Obama on the Markets

Not content to patch up this crisis, he wants to keep them from happening again.

I do not believe that government should stand in the way of innovation, or turn back the clock to an older era of regulation. But I do believe that government has a role to play in advancing our common prosperity: by providing stable macroeconomic and financial conditions for sustained growth; by demanding transparency; and by ensuring fair competition in the marketplace.

Our history should give us confidence that we don’t have to choose between an oppressive government-run economy and a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism. It tells us we can emerge from great economic upheavals stronger, not weaker. But we can do so only if we restore confidence in our markets. Only if we rebuild trust between investors and lenders. And only if we renew that common interest between Wall Street and Main Street that is the key to our success.

See how he wants to do it here.

Thanks to Bora for the link.

September 15, 2008

Music as Memory

I remember down in Galveston,
When storm winds swept the town,
The high tides from the ocean, Lord,
Put water all around.

When I heard that a hurricane was headed for Galveston, I shuddered. Thousands of people in Galveston did not, electing to stay on the island during the storm. Two thousand of those have escaped or been rescued from what are being described as "splintered houses." Five have been found dead.

The trumpets warned the people,
"You'd better leave this place".
But they never meant to leave their homes
Till death was in their face.

What's the difference between them and me? Well, there are probably several, including the fact that the closest I've been to a hurricane was having a chunk of vacation washed out, along with the roads, in Scotland in 2004. At least I wasn't in Cornwall, where a town was swept into its harbor. Of course, they didn't have any warning, unlike people in Galveston.

The trains they all were loaded
With people leavin' town,
The tracks gave way to the ocean, Lord,
And the trains they went on down.

Another difference is that I grew up surrounded by folk music, and the Chad Mitchell Trio's version of "A Mighty Day" still gives me goosebumps. That song captures everything, the relentless rhythm of the surf and the surge, the wailing of the winds, the despair of those (most of the city) who didn't make it out.

The waters like some river
They went a-rushin' to and fro
I saw my father drownin', Lord,
And I watched my mother go

I can only think that the modern residents of Galveston have never heard this song. Playing it at the local festivals can't be good for attracting business to the area. But Hurricane Ike was only a category 2 storm, and still five are known to be dead in Galveston.

Now death your hands are icy.
You've got them on my knee.
You took away my mother now.
You're comin' after me.

Songs like this exist because we can't afford to forget.

September 14, 2008

Palin Exposé

Hey, look! There's a new biography of Sarah Palin coming out before the election! This will be the in-depth, thoroughly investigated, hard-hitting detailing of her background that we've all been wai--what?


It's coming out from Zondervan Press, a Christian religious publisher. It wasn't planned before McCain's inexplicable announcement (because no one thought her worth the attention), so it's being written and printed in about six weeks. And the author says:

We live in an age that values relationship over authority and instant information over accuracy, so breadth of knowledge and depth of conviction are the most prized commodities for our leaders. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin brings both of these qualities and more to her new role as John McCain’s running mate and I’m eager for readers to have the opportunity to know her and her brand of leadership more thoroughly.

Instant information over accuracy?!? A biased puff piece that's proud to be a biased puff piece? Blegh. In other words, it'll be just like the last Palin biography, the one with an "Editorial Review" from Fox News.

Okay, bored now. Done with Palin. Nothing there. How about we go back to comparing the candidates' records instead?

A What?

In case you've ever wondered what a digital cuttlefish is or how it would work its way into my blogroll, here's a hint:

The other day, when I went out
To give the pigs their slop,
I noticed something quite unique,
That caused my jaw to drop:
My eyes bugged out a little bit;
My brain was doing flips--
For every pig was waiting there
With lipstick on their lips!

The rest is here. Enjoy.

September 12, 2008

Slick 4 Prez

Oh, how I love Sinfest. Er, it's a cartoon. With something to offend everyone. Last week, it was the Republicans.

Start here to watch Slicky choose his VP. Get introduced to the concept of a PILF. And whatever you do, don't stop reading before the "hair-off."

September 11, 2008

They're Daleks? That Explains So Much

A friend flew out of town on Sunday. While in the airport, he noticed something curious.

The RNC still had an ad running in the commercial loop on the TV monitors in the bookstores. I knew I'd heard the music before, and finally placed it ... it's the Kaled victory march! I loitered in the bookstore and watched that ad at least 3 times, just to be sure. No, I'm not kidding.

The Kaled victory march, for those of you less geeky than my friend (or all of you), is from I, Davros, a Doctor Who audio play done by Big Finish Productions.

For context: this is right after the councilors are exterminated by Davros, and Davros is making his big power play.

Davros being the leader of the Daleks. You know the Daleks.

McCain, Davros. The RNC, Daleks. Beautiful. They really couldn't have done much better if they'd tried, now could they?

September 10, 2008

State of Terror

From a conversation with a friend today:

My world is largely divided into people who scoff at the idea that I could be scary and people who are terrified of me. There is a small group of people who see the potential for terror but aren't scared, although they do have visible moments of wariness. These are my friends.

Feel free to chime in in the comments and sort yourselves out. I'm taking my scary self to bed. :)

September 09, 2008

More Fact Checking

If you don't have bookmarked, you should fix that. It's nonpartisan required reading for anyone interested in how much of what they're being told/sold is the truth.

They have multiple posts on the recent Republican convention. In part one, "Lieberman and Thompson make misleading claims about Obama on Day Two of the party in St. Paul." In part two, "Palin trips up on her facts, and Giuliani and Huckabee have their own stumbles on Night 3 of the Republican confab." McCain's speech gets its own post, as he "made some flubs in accepting the nomination."

And since the convention, it just keeps on coming. Well, it does when they actually talk to anyone.

Thanks to Bora for keeping on top of much of this news. While he may be partisan (not a complaint), he should also be required reading for at least the duration.

September 08, 2008

Primary Tomorrow

If you don't live in Minneapolis, skip the rest of this post. This is my sample ballot for the local DFL primary.

I put one together every election for me, my husband (who's busy doing his homework), and anyone else who wants to trust my political judgment. I read the candidates' statements, look at endorsements, and Google for red flags. This isn't so important for the statewide elections, but it's critical for positions like school board and open judges' seats, which don't get much coverage.

Here are my votes for tomorrow.

U.S. Senate: Al Franken

Supreme Court Associate Justice, Seat 3: Paul H. Anderson

Supreme Court Associate Justice, Seat 4: Lorie Skjerven Gildea

U.S. House, District 5: Keith Ellison

District Court Judge, 4th District Court, Seat 53: Jane Ranum

Minneapolis School Board (3): Carla Bates, Jill Davis, Lydia Lee

I was all set to provide my reasoning for each pick, but while Googling the District Court candidates, I came across my friend Naomi's sample ballot. I look at school board position statements before endorsements, using the endorsements only to break a tie, while Naomi looked at endorsements first before confirming her choices using the position statements. Otherwise, she says everything I was going to say. Our ballots are identical.

By the way, if you're voting Republican, you can use the same sample ballot, although there's no contest for the House seat. Just substitute Jack Shepard for Al Franken for Senate, and you're done.

Update: Find out where to vote.

Fair Warning

This blog is new enough that it hasn't been through an election before (nothing local last year), so those of you who know me only through the blog haven't seen me in an election season. I get a wee bit obsessive. I have plenty of things I want to say about writing and editing at the moment, but every time I sit down to write them, I have things to say about politics that feel more important to get out.

So if you're not thrilled with the last week or so of posts, you might want to come back in a couple of months. I'll miss you, but I'll understand.

September 06, 2008

Fact-Checking Palin

CNN reviewed Palin's speechifying on her own record. Not as much truth as one would hope for from a candidate trying to steal the change issue from Obama.

Wasilla resident Anne Kilkenny has a little more nuance on Palin vetoing spending bills as well.

CNN will also be doing a second piece on Palin's remarks about Obama. I can't wait.

September 05, 2008

Convention Recoverage

I was going to write a long, involved post about the Republican candidates' speeches, but I don't have to. Joe Biden said everything that needs to be said, and he did it concisely. Seriously, he does that sometimes. Greg has the short, lovely video. Go look.

Me? I'm going to use the extra time to enjoy having my city back.

September 04, 2008


I was at my mom's this weekend to pick apples and roast brats over a bonfire. A thought occurred to me and I looked over at her.

"So, you've been a small-town council member and mayor."


"Do you think a year and a half as governor would qualify you to lead the nation?"

She shook her head sadly. "No. I don't think so."

"No?" She has more years of city service then Palin had. She served on this committee and that board. She was president of a non-profit. She participated in a sister city program, giving her international experience. Her middle name is even Louise.

"No." She shrugged. "I've never been a beauty queen."

September 03, 2008

Bachmann's Service

When I heard Representative Michele Bachmann was going to speak at the RNC last night, I had two thoughts. "Ew," and "Huh." We'll get to the "ew" part shortly. I want to start with "huh."

Last Friday, my friend James went to a meeting at the Courts International building in St. Paul. This is where Norm Coleman has his office (in Paul Wellstone's old office, the unfeeling, opportunistic bastard). James saw and heard a woman talking on her cell phone, not in Coleman's office but well out in public.

She was whining about "the convention." She didn't want to stick to the script. She had some great ideas of her own about what to say.

At the time, we just laughed about the difference between the speeches at the DNC and the heavy scripting that was about to come. I didn't know at the time that the RNC would be that willing to embrace a fruit bat like Bachmann. But once I found out they had, well, strict scripting suddenly made a lot more sense.

This is the woman who hung out in the capitol bushes to spy on a gay-rights protest. This is the woman who described how she got "hot" for god as a sixteen-year-old. This is the woman, no "ew" yet.

So I sent James some links to pictures. "Yep, that looks like her."

Unfortunately, she stuck to the script:

Service isn't a political trait - though some Presidential nominees certainly know more about service than others.

As Republicans, we recognize that service is an innately personal characteristic.

It is best achieved by individuals and community groups, faith-based organizations and charities.

There are some people, however, who believe differently.

They think service is run by Washington bureaucrats, and a growing dependency on government-issued checks.

And they think you should be footing the bill.

I won't go into detail, for the moment, about just how appalling the script is ("Service is personal, so you don't have to pay for it even as you pat yourself on the back for knowing one person who gave some"), because I'm just so disappointed that she stuck to it. She still wasn't happy about it, as you can see from the video hosted at the Dump Michele Bachmann blog, who also has a great comment on her use of the term "Minnesota Nice."

I'm want to know what it was she never got to say. On this topic in particular, I want her off script. Because unlike Monica Lewinsky, Bachmann has given every indication that in her mind, service is a very public thing.


September 02, 2008

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Uh, hell if I know, actually. I'm surprised it's September.

There was major construction in there, resulting in so much (expected) damage to the yard that I still have trouble looking at it. I made some friends in unexpected places. There was catsitting. Oh, and blogging. Definitely blogging.

No real vacation, though, and given that, I don't feel much like submitting to the grind today. Instead, I'll give you some other folks who are back at school.

Lou is distilling his biology class into an excellent series of blog posts. The one on his termite lab is way cool, particularly as one student gets over the squicks by getting interested in the science. (Ooh. He's also practicing his best teacher look.)

Samia has a review of her reproductive biochemistry text that should be a must-read for every textbook writer. Think about how students will read these things, would you (although I defy anyone to predict Samia's reaction in full)?

Greg has already turned in a full book report, on Chris Mooney's Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming. Topical both meteorologically and politically. Whee!

Zuska isn't actually back at school, but she's still learning--from summer vacations past.

September 01, 2008

More Education Funds Spent to Appease Homophobes

One of the local high schools has a gay-rights student club. Well, probably several of them do, which is a great change since I was in school. The difference for Maple Grove High School's Straights and Gays for Equality (SAGE) is that the school is trying to force them into their own little student group ghetto and the school board is wiling to spend money to defend the school's idiocy.

Four times.

Friday's ruling affirmed a September 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen, who ruled that Straights and Gays for Equality (SAGE) should be on equal footing with other student groups at Maple Grove High School.

Ericksen ruled that the school violated the Equal Access Act by giving access to the public address system and school bulletin boards to groups such as the Spirit Council, synchronized swimming and Black Achievers while denying access to SAGE.

The school argued that SAGE was different from the other groups because SAGE wasn't a "curricular group." That is, it wasn't connected to what kids are learning in school. You know, unlike the Spirit Council, which "plans school dances and activities."

Needless to say, the court sees this as discriminatory. But rather than accept that the district court ruling clarifies the legal landscape for schools, the Osseo school district has appealed twice, once against the preliminary injunction and once against the final ruling.

Appeals are not cheap, and the school district is not exactly swimming in cash. In fact, they're asking the voters to approve additional funding this fall.

The board voted earlier this week to pose two questions to voters on Nov. 4: One will ask for $8 million in additional tax revenues a year for 10 years, and the other will ask for $5 million a year over five years to pay for technology equipment and training.

The Osseo district is still smarting from $16.3 million in cuts in the 2009-10 budget that resulted in the closing of two schools, big program changes in four other schools, and the loss of scores of teachers.

So what is the district doing spending money they don't have appealing clear and simple legal rulings? I don't know, but I encourage voters in the school district to find out. Ask the board for their reasoning. Ask the individual members about their priorities in funding education versus court cases.

And ask them now, because they come up for a vote at the same time the funding referendum does.