Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's Like Rain On Your Wedding Day

March 28 was the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Three Mile Island Meltdown. Walter Cronkite labeled it the “worst nuclear power plant accident of the atomic age.” (And somehow Walter Cronkite’s fatherly delivery makes that sound comforting. “America has achieved another record and we are all safe and Mom is making cake to celebrate.")

In December this year, it will be the 30th anniversary of the stampede at the Who concert in Cincinnati. (You may recall that being a plot driver in a “WKRP in Cincinnati” sitcom episode. Yes, sitcom.) Yes, I live in Cincinnati, but, other than that, why am I bringing this up?

On May 27, sandwiched between Three Mile Island Meltdown and The Who Tragedy anniversaries, Karen and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.
Natural and man-made disasters happen every year and most couples can probably share anniversaries with memorable horrific events. So, TMI and The Who? - no big deal. However, we have another tragedy preserved forever in our memories.

A friend of the family was into photography and took photos at our wedding. He knew that a cool way to provide a sort of time capsule to the event was to photograph the front page of the local paper on the wedding day. We got married in Cincinnati and the front page of the local paper that day had a half-page photo very much like the one here of a plane turned sideways about to become, “In terms of total fatalities … the deadliest single airliner accident on US soil.” (The crash occurred on the 25th, but in those days, boys and girls, there were no 24-hour cable stations and it took the Pony Express two days to get the photos from Chicago to Cincinnati.)

His photos in our album start off with that newspaper story on the front page, as if providing a theme for our marriage: “The worst disaster of its kind in America. Ever.”

The front page also shows that it was cloudy that day and I seem to remember that it rained a bit. Rain is supposed to be bad luck on your wedding day - except when it isn’t. (see #1 here). I don't know if whatever rain we had was a worse sign than a plane crash, but probably neither really means anything.

The plane crash was a discrete event, hardly remembered now. There were other disasters of the era that spanned years – the Carter Presidency and Disco, most notably - but they are also long gone.

Yet, despite the tragic portent of the Cincinnati Enquirer, 3o years later, like the cancer-causing toxicity of Three Mile Island, our marriage lingers on.

Isn’t it ironic?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Condoms or Credit Cards - What's In Your Wallet?

Ohio may become one of many states to restrict credit card advertising on state university campuses because “students are enticed to sign up for cards by free gifts” and then, presumably, are powerless to avoid debt, despair and destruction. The message is that credit cards are like heroin, which everyone, given the slightest opportunity, would OD on, assuming they were first enticed with free gifts*.

The people who think that keeping credit cards away from the kids is the way to stop them from getting in debt are the same people who think that “abstinence only” will prevent pregnancy and STDs.

Credit cards are a tool for monetary transactions. People are tempted to use them unwisely and get into trouble unwittingly. Taking the tool out of someone’s hand does not end the temptation or prevent future trouble. (Ironically, with sex, putting the teen’s tool in his/her hand DOES reduce the potential problems).

We put 16-year-old kids inside massive death machines and send them off to driver’s training so they can learn to use the car responsibly. But we can’t teach them fiscal responsibility? No, because spending money you don’t have is the foundation of our economy. We can’t trust the President to not put us irretrievably into debt, so how can we trust the college students who campaigned for his election?

By example, American parents teach their children that money does not grow on trees, it sprouts from the wall at the mall or from free-standing ATMs. During March Madness college basketball games, we have been bombarded with commercials enticing us to get a certain credit card because we can put a cute picture on it. We are likewise flooded with ads urging us to buy beer, but at least the beer ads suggest that you “drink responsibly” – and, though I’ve tried, you can’t drink beer you don’t have.

Requiring credit card pimps to stay a hundred yards from campus won't do much to prevent credit card debt among students. A better law would be one requiring parents and educators to exhibit and teach the students responsibility and moderation in all things including law making.

(*NOTE: I am aware that it is a true fact that "free gift" is a repetitively redundant phrase, indicating overextended word use by a person needing verbal responsibility and restraint.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Misreading Disasters

The link on MSNBC's home page said "Twister injures 20, destroys homes" and for a moment I pictured a massive pileup in the den during a wacky party game. Second Cousin Jack leans over and back for red and grabs on Sister's boob, she knocks him to the ground and everybody falls down, leaving 20 with contusions too.

But it was just a story about a tornado in Mississippi. Up in North Dakota, they are trying to divert another natural disaster. The headline for that was "Fargo uses social networks to fight flood waters". I didn't immediately grasp how that tool would help in a flood. Tag everyone with a note titled "25 random flood fighting techniques" hoping that someone would come up with a good plan?

Actually, they set up a group to get volunteers to sandbag the river. Meanwhile there was a blizzard in Denver. This time I didn't misread or misunderstand, I just didn't get this: "They initially reported at least 33 were injured, but later said about two dozen people taken to a hospital turned out to be uninjured or refused treatment." How is it that 75% of the people taken to the hospital didn't need to or didn't want to go? Were the EMTs working on commission?
Maybe they just misread the situation

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stock of Love

America loves sleazy, skanky people on TV.
Remember when spring break, became MTV Spring Break? The media not only took over a simple college vacation week, they morphed it into a sponsored frenzy that other media could then cover with whatever angle suited their demographic (from outrage at Fox News to jealous disdain by old rockers at VH1).
It was the same thing that ESPN did by bringing play-by-play coverage to the innocent National Spelling Bee except the Bee has more underage teens and fewer t-shirt lifting skanks shaking it in the camera.
Remember when Jerry Springer, the king of sleaze, hosted MTV’s Spring Break? Jerry Springer was once Mayor of Cincinnati. He ran for Governor of Ohio and once considered running for Senator here a few years ago.
The people serving in Congress are no more qualified to be there than Jerry Springer. That is why it is ridiculous that Congress is now in charge of huge portions of the banking/investment industry. Sure the US Treasury is involved, but they are not set up to run real banking operations. Tim Geithner looks like one of the ‘socially awkward contestants from “The Pick-Up Artist”.
And now, like MTV did with Spring Break, the media has made hearings of the Senate Finance Committee actually watchable. Senators and Representatives are making television for the masses with their trash-talking and put downs of the banking geeks who got s**tfaced on bad credit and pissed and puked all over the economy. Which, if our government was savvy enough, could be turned into a deficit reduction production with sponsorship of the high-budget reality show they are creating on the fly.
All they need to really catapult this to the top of the ratings is Jerry Springer to host and maybe some girl-on-girl make out scenes with Feinstein and Pelosi.
Seriously, what if they took the AIG executives and some taxpayers and put them all together in a house with cameras following them 24/7? The drama would unfold as the execs debated giving back their bonuses and romance developed among the opposing factions. Taxpayers would reveal their diminished assets and AIG execs would walk around in thongs stuffed with artificially enhanced wallets.
This would make money for the government and perhaps save the lives of the Wall Street skanks as America falls in love with those bad boys.
I’m going to pitch this to MTV, so give me some ideas of names for the show.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

You Can't Go Home Again

Andy over at “PurpAnd” was pondering the number of residences he has lived in and wondering which was his favorite home. He commented that one “particular residence is also the one I spent most of my life in (about 10 years total).”
I was struck by a couple of things. On is that, for my friend Andy (whom I’ve never met), 10 years is nearly half his life – which just reinforces the sad realization that I am twice his age and nearing the point where I can not remember where I live at present, let alone all my previous ones. But really, Andy, based on the math clues you dropped in your essay, 10 years is closer to 1/3 of your life. You are closing in on 30 – deal with it!
The other thing that was interesting was that Andy has lived in a lot of places, which is similar to my experience growing up. A lot of people at Andy’s age don’t have so many homes to look back on and rank. My daughter had only one home until she went to college. So, if you are smart, you now know that I have lived in my current home a long time. But in the 30 some years before this house, I lived in (if my rapidly deteriorating memory serves) 14 different places, if college counts as only one. That is about 1 every 2.5 years, pretty close to Andy’s rate.
When we were growing up, my parents divorced and Mom moved us around to various parts of the Los Angeles area. Later, after I had failed to pursue her dream for me and I chose accounting over comedy, she revealed the reason for our nomadic existence. “The best comedians experience hardship growing up. It forms their comic persona. You were supposed to take your unstable life of a broken home and never settled living conditions and build a solid comedy life.”
I could only shake my head. “Mom, every kid in L.A. is an aspiring actor/comedian and every one of them has divorced parents and instability. The ones who make it have gone beyond that. You say you did it all for me, but if you wanted me to have a comedy base, you would have lost your job and made me wonder where my next meal was coming from. If you really loved me, you would have been a crack whore or would have given me an abusive step-father. Then I would have something to create a monologue around. But you did none of that.”
The original question here was which home was my favorite. Looking back on them all:
the duplex where my sister and I used to walk to the coffee shop for dinner or the apartment where we ate crackers and Gouda cheese sitting on the floor before the place was furnished or the house where I become cook and laundryman when Mom broke her ankle -
I’d say my favorite was the imaginary place I created in my head.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Songs For the New Depression

(Title stolen from Bette Midler)

The Dow Jones Is Gonna Fall
(A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall)

What have you done my stockbroking son?
And what did you do with my retirement fund?
I sold mortgage-backed securities without regulation
I crippled the credit of large corporations
I ruined economies of world power nations
I stumbled on the slide of inflated earnings
I pumped up the bubble until it was bursting
And it’s the Dow, it’s the Dow, it’s the Dow, it’s the Dow
And it’s the Dow Jones a-gonna fall

And who did you meet, my bank failure son?
And whose coffers increased with big bailout funds?
I met AIG who’d had inadequate reserves
I gave them sev’ral billion that they didn’t deserve
I gave Wall Street massive cash funds with multiple zeroes
I saw them bonus themselves as if they were the heroes
I then criticized poor folks for not paying their mortgage
Though someone else’s greed is why they can’t afford it
And it’s the Dow, it’s the Dow, it’s the Dow, it’s the Dow
And it’s the Dow Jones a-gonna fall

The Boxter
(The Boxer – Paul Simon)
I am now a poor boy
And my stocks have all dissolved
Someone squandered all my savings
On squat propped up by bullshit
And false promises
All lies and jest
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And then he does invest

Well I hocked my home
And my SUV
And I sold my little boy
To invest with Bernie Madoff
And some mortgage-backed securities
All uninsured
Now I go
Seeking out the cardboard boxes
Where the homeless people go
Looking for the places
Foreclosed people know


Expecting more years of recession
I’ve been laid off from my job
Now I’ve got no prospects
‘Cause I believed in all those whores
CNBC puts on

I do declare---
Chapter Seven – that means bankruptcy
So creditors beware

Lie la lie ---------

Now I’m looking down at wall street
From my ledge, soon I’ll be gone
Going down
And the New Deal stimulus will
Will not be feeding me, or keeping me
From going down

In the driveway stands a Boxter
And a Porsche by its make
And it serves as a reminder
Of wealth evaporated now
And dividends that dried up
And what put me in this mess
I’d be leaving, I’d be leaving
But the car’s being repossessed
Lie la lie lie lie lie lie----

Lie la lie---

Saturday, March 7, 2009

This is How I Got Lured Into Accounting
(Dilbert home page)

Pie is the perfect food. Pie can be sweet or savory; pie can be made with meat, fruit, vegetables, and dairy foods (cream cheese pie is often misunderstood as "cheesecake").

Pie is American, as in "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet" (though pie will never go bankrupt and leave hundreds of thousands without jobs).

Some people like birthday cakes but my daughter and I always have birthday pie. Pie is perfect for any occasion - well, there is one unfortunate exception.

All hail the power of pie. I pledge my life and fortune to thee. (Which is how I lost my fortune).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Be There or Be Square

I have square roots, so I am celebrating today, 3/3/09, which is a square root day. Any square can figure that out and a real square can tell me how many square root days there are each century.

These are my square roots:
My grandfather was a PhD in mathematics; it doesn’t get much squarer than that.
My father is a CPA; need I say more?

My mother wanted me to have a respectable L.A. type career as a comedian or street performer, but I could not break away from my square roots and I am, like my dad, a certified public accountant. I grew up and went to college in hip, cool Los Angeles. But I longed to seek out my people, so I majored in economics, got married, became a CPA and moved to the San Fernando Valley. When that wasn’t square enough, we came here to the Midwest.

Square, dork, geek, "L7" - whatever you call it, that's me.

So I am celebrating my square roots on square root day. I’m am cutting carrots, onions, fennel and potatoes into square shapes and making soup. That will be served with root beer in square mugs. For dessert we will serve pie baked in square pans so we can make jokes about “pie are square”. Ironically, pi*r2 is the formula for the area of a circle, which pie usually are. (SNICKER< SNICKER< SNORT!). Sorry, if you are square, you think that’s funny.