Tuesday, March 25, 2008

French Boycott of the Olympics?

Uh, no. Just a threat to boycott the Opening Ceremonies.


I'm not someone who defaults to thinking that everything the French do is pathetic, manipulative, or chickenshit. That's right-winger territory. I'm more in the frame of mind of wondering why so much of what the French do really is pathetic, manipulative, or chickenshit. Not sure what that makes me, besides insightful and sad.

Quoth Sarkozy, further: "And if you do not stop brutally repressing ethnic minorities within your nation and financing and empowering rape and genocide abroad, I will personally refrain from attending any black-tie events in Beijing."

Add to my list of concerns about politicizing the Olympics the fact that people tend to do a lousy job of it, anyway. If I'm Nicky Sarkozy and I want to make a point, French-style, I get my Olympic delegation to fetchez la vache. If you thought the skydiving-cattle, "EAT MORE CHIKIN" stunt raised awareness of a crucial issue,

try painting "FREE TIBET" on the cows and catapulting them into the stadium. Boycotts are so tried and tired, anyway.

What do you say, Vercingetorix? You went to all this trouble to unite the Gauls, and for this?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Note to a Neighbor

Thanks for speaking with me today. I understand your position about the parking at the end of the street, on your side of the road. I want you to know that I have never encouraged anyone to park there, and we’ve never parked there ourselves. If I’ve been slow or neglectful in arranging to have parked cars moved from that location, I apologize. In today’s case I presumed, mistakenly, that you had left for the workday, and rather than trouble the cleaners to move their car immediately, I thought it would be fine to let them finish, then have them vacate the space when they were done with the work. I realize now that this was the wrong answer, and I won’t make that mistake again.

Since the day we moved in here and your daughter made known that you did not want cars parked in that location, I have emphasized to house guests and visitors that they should not park in that space. On a number of occasions I have asked them to move their cars. As I told you on the phone, I will continue to warn visitors against parking in that area, and I will continue to ask people to move whenever I see cars there and they belong to folks who are visiting our house.

As I also explained, people feel compelled to park their cars in that space, for whatever reason. Accordingly, there may be instances in which you find someone parked there, and my wife or I is not aware the car is there and we have not been in a position to get it moved. We agreed on the phone that a reasonable and appropriate response in this case is to have you contact me so I can get the car moved. I told you I would leave my phone numbers for that purpose, and here they are:

[REDACTED] (home)
[REDACTED] (mobile)

I want to reiterate that I do not think it is a reasonable and appropriate response to block the road and deny passage off of [REDACTED] Street, as you did today to my cleaners. It’s not a proportional response, it’s not legal, and it’s not safe. I also believe it is not constructive to blare your horn and call the police, but I understand that it’s within your rights to do either or both of these if you choose (as blocking the road is not).

I understand how strongly you feel about this issue, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to keep the parking there to a minimum. You must understand, however, that my wife and I cannot keep constant surveillance over the street, and the problem will likely recur every now and then, despite our sincere best efforts. In fact, there may be cases in which persons who are not our guests are parked in that space, and we can’t answer for the offense or assist you with resolving the matter, because we don’t know the offenders. We have seen cars parked there that did not belong to anyone visiting our house. You said that you think posting a No Parking sign on the fence is unnecessary and unsightly. I think a sign would go a long way toward avoiding these situations, but I’ll defer to your judgment. If you change your mind, I’m happy to go get one and put it up.

You agreed on the phone that persons may lawfully park their cars past the driveway on our side of the road. Street parking is allowed in front of our house opposite your driveway just as it is in front of your house opposite ours. That said, as a gesture of goodwill, we will ask anyone who parks on our side of the road to park as close to the yard as possible, and if you have any preferences as to where in that zone they should park — to make it easiest for you to back out your car — please let me know and I will communicate those preferences to our visitors. This is, I think, the way neighbors should handle their affairs.

You and I both worry about “getting off on the wrong foot.” I had hoped that our relationship took a turn for the better when you helped my wife and I clear the snow from our driveway: I very much appreciated the help, and I gathered from this that neither of us might have made the best first impression on the other, but our hearts are in the right place. My goal is to maintain civil relationships with my neighbors, and the best way to do that is for us to communicate our concerns to one another and work constructively at resolving them. We should have had this morning’s conversation a long time ago. Now that we have, let’s treat this as a “do-over.” I pledge from this point to do everything I can to keep our visitors’ cars out of the offending location (we will talk to the cleaners tonight), and I only ask in return that when — as may happen from time to time — some visitor to our house unwittingly parks in that space, and you learn of it before I do, you simply let me know and refrain from these dramatic, confrontational gestures.



Monday, March 17, 2008

Who Ought To Be Bailout-Eligible?

It appears the Federal Reserve will be providing a limited bailout to Bear Stearns, which will have a 28-day credit extension courtesy of the federal government. Commentators who know a heck of a lot more about this than me are wondering why it's suddenly the government's job to cover the downside of aggressive investment strategies on Wall Street.

The answer I'm hearing, which makes some sense to me, is that the government ought to take limited steps to contain the fallout of these bad decisions. In short, allowing Bear Stearns to disintegrate completely would be really bad for the economy. And although it's not necessarily good for the economy to spare investors the punishment for their bad decisions, the Feds can balance two competing interests — protecting the larger economy and ensuring that brokerage houses "bear" the downside of the market (two puns intended) — with a calibrated approach that gives some assistance to BS (yes, another pun), without carrying the company on its back.

So fine. Now the turn:

Hillary Clinton gave an interview on NPR some time ago (yes, to the "latte-drinking crowd," surprisingly), and she was asked what she thought of Mike Huckabee's position that federal assistance to subprime borrowers was a bad idea. Huckabee's argument was simple, and it had homespun, surface appeal. As he put it, why should a taxpayer who made good decisions and bought as much house as he could afford have to pay for his foolhardy neighbor's mortgage, too? Clinton answered with three points:

(1) For the subprime mess to happen, a lot of people had to make bad decisions — borrowers, lenders, and investors, to name the three most obvious categories — and the borrowers were arguably the least reckless and culpable, but they expected to bear the brunt of the consequences, by losing their homes.

(2) Quite a lot of the borrowers signed on to exploitative contractual terms by which advance payments against principal triggered dramatic percentage rate increases. In attempts to "do the right thing" and get ahead of their payments, they paid more than their monthly bills required, triggering the oppressive rates.

(3) The housing market is interconnected. There is not a separate market for houses under subprime loans. The more borrowers default on their loans, the more the housing market is affected, and the "wise lender" that Huckabee would protect from the government loses equity in his house, because his foolhardy neighbors are flooding the market with homes they can't afford.

Now, to me, Hillary's argument (3) sounds quite a lot like the argument for bailing out Bear Stearns. One wonders, then, why it's okay for the government to cut breaks to brokerage houses, but to offer help to borrowers is creeping socialism in the minds of our free-market conservatives. If there's going to be an inconsistency here, shouldn't it favor the borrowers, who, as Ms. Clinton observed in argument (1), at least have the equities in their favor?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Untitled Brio Track #9 (March 16, 2008)

I was looking for something long and lean here, with a lot of networking and switches in the southeast corner, and then a long hairpin-style out-and-back on the northwest end. I've been interested in curved bridges lately, and the focal point of this piece — the knot in the bow tie, if you will — is the curved bridge over the Y-switch track. That's an innovation, not a gimmick, if you're keeping score.

I would also like to point out the inverted-L design. The idea here was to enable The Boy to get right up on the track by nestling into that right(ish) angle.

There were a lot of positive reactions to this piece around the living room. All in all, I was pleased with the result, and it survived (with minor interruptions of service) almost twenty-four hours before a mid-morning rampage — we think The Boy was jacked up on maple syrup — did it in.

Ah, the evanescence of Art.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Spring Forward, Flexibly

It's that time of year again, when your weekend becomes an hour shorter so we can all shift our clocks. I'd like to take this occasion to re-present what I thought was a pretty fantastic idea — the Flexible Spring Forward.

The idea is simple and straightforward. Rather than lose an hour of sleep between Saturday and Sunday, you pick your own time to jump ahead. As I proposed several years ago on my pilot blog:

Give everybody a week to spring ahead, and let 'em make the jump whenever they damn well please. Who wouldn't want to show up to work an hour late all week long and tell the boss, "It's cool, man — I just haven't sprung yet?" Then 4:00 comes on Friday afternoon, and wham! you skip ahead to go-home time, sparing yourself sixty minutes of tedium and the coffee cup another hour of pencil-tapping.

Or suppose you go into McDonald's, craving a Big Mac, and the guy at the counter says, "It's ten o'clock, sir. We're only serving breakfast." Oh, yeah? Well you can shove your Egg McMuffins where the sun don't shine, pal, because I've just declared it lunchtime. SUPER-SIZE ME!

Suffering through travel delays? Plane or train not due to depart for another fifty minutes? Hit that spring button, baby, and you'll be instantly in the air/on track and closing in on your destination.

Here's one: somebody actually thought you'd enjoy going to the Symphony (the nerve!). You can use the hour in your pocket to make this snoozer of a Handel program half as long. Along those lines, the strategic planners among us who happen to have our yearly physicals scheduled during Spring Week can fast-forward through the more, er, awkward parts of the examination. And all you Guinness Book of World Records aspirants trying to set endurance marks (sleep-deprivation, balancing on a bicycle, jumping rope) can get an hour's leg up on your competition.

In short: who wouldn't jump at the chance to flummox Father Time once a year? Sure, there are a few logistics to work out — chiefly, keeping a record of each person's timekeeping so the bullshitters among us (you know who you are) don't try to spring more than once. Easy to fix. The government sets up a website — the usual login/password kind of deal — so that when you feel the itch to spring forward, you play your chit to the Central Server, and your spent hour is on record for anyone to see. No computer handy? Call in from your mobile phone!

Once America gets going on this, you can bet Flexible Fall Back is next. So make those October massage appointments now, because for a week that second hour is free for everyone: What do you mean, you're "done?" It's still only three o'clock by my watch. Get back to the hot oils.

The Aforedescribed Idea and all renderings, variations, toutings, vigorous defenses (with and without resort to gunplay), depictions, embodiments, Power Point presentations, and exaggerations thereof are the lawful property of the Phutatorius Idea Bank™. All rights reserved.

What do you all think?

Friday, March 07, 2008

This One's for All You Fascists Out There

From the "Funny Because It's True" Department: Godwin's Law.

More on the subject here.

Why, just this week, in an email discussion about the Presidential candidates, someone near and dear to me (but obviously of a different view than I am) cautioned against finding too much inspiration in Barack Obama, on the ground that "Hitler was inspiring to his people in the 30s."

I have to say I admire the "reductio ad Hitlerum" formulation, too. My practice has been to describe this form of argument as "dropping the H-bomb," but I'm always partial to the Latin.