Sunday, March 30, 2008

You wanna see moral hazard?

Daniel Gross on Slate, writing on moral hazard from the top, makes the point that there is more danger to the country from the plutocrats than from the poor:
In the underclass, unmarried, young fathers don't take responsibility for their children. In the overclass, twice-married, middle-aged Wall Street daddies don't own up to the consequences of their insane financial miscues. Wall Street titans are almost incapable of seeing the problem with taking nine-figure payouts in years in which their stocks plummet. "There's just a total disconnect between the compensation and the responsibility for their actions," says William Cohan, a former Lazard banker turned author.

Read the whole thing here for a little class warfare ammo.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Headline of the day

from the Vicad sports pages: 'Jaguars / catchers / compliment / each other'
'Brittany, I just love your shoes.'
'Oh, thank you, Sam. Where did you get that darling haircut?'

Thursday, March 27, 2008

C. in C.

This evening I heard Hillary tell me that she was ready to be the economic Commander in Chief. Now I'm not a constitutional scholar, but I'm pretty sure that this duty for the president exists only in her overweeningly ambitious mind. That woman's just dying to tell us all what to do, and I'm damn well not ready to be told anything by her. One of the many, many irritating routines of Nukular George is his harping on his role as Commander in Chief. He just loves to say those words, but that's of the military, not of the whole damn country. He is not my Commander in Chief ... I'm not in the military. That simple-minded schlump has spent eight years looking like a kid who strayed off from the Resource Room and ended up in the advanced calculus class, where he didn't understand anything going on but figured he could bluster his way through it all. What a catastrophe he has been.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Of things

One of our friends who visited recently is 12 years old, a very good age, as I remember. He's a lad of many parts -- a big boy who's well coordinated and a good athlete, a nicely verbal kid, a kid with a talent for the visual, and perhaps the last kid in the world who's being raised to say 'please' and 'thank you,' as we used to do in this part of the world. The latter is mainly owing to his parents' gentle but constant cuing at the appropriate places for the words. As I recall, that's how I learned. He was noodling around on his guitar, playing 'Norwegian Wood,' while they were here. The funny thing here is that he's also recently taken up playing the tuba and loves it extravagantly. His mother says, with some wonder in her voice, 'Tuba scholarships go begging.' Many paths to the top of the mountain, including the low-brass road. A gentleman of my acquaintance says, 'All music is improved by the addition of tubas.'

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I shoulda done this on Monday

Our neighbor had her whole tribe down for Easter; even with four boys, they couldn't eat all the ham, so she sent us over what she modestly called a hambone and what I'd call about half a ham. The highest and best use of this noble bit of dead pig is in red beans, traditionally made on Monday with the bone left from Sunday's ham. [This is so you can do wash on Monday without having to fool with cooking.] The beans have been simmering for a couple, three hours, rice is steaming, & I have in the fridge some gorgeous potato salad I made this weekend. Little chopped onion, some pepper vinegar -- heaven. On the table, we keep a mayo jar of Thai chiles covered with vinegar. It's been running for a couple of years but the peppers retain their efficacy even yet ... just keep on pouring in more vinegar. Love it on greens or steamed cabbage. It'll open your eyes.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Niggle, nitpick

A few of those little annoying blunders that can make reading the Vicad painful: First, in a guest editorial by the mayor of the largest city in Victoria County: "My own family’s health and safety ... is of upmost concern and importance to me." Some strange conflation of 'utmost' and 'uppermost,' maybe? Not to mention a subject-verb disagreement. Anyhow, it's downmost. Then someone wrote that something was 'cut-and-dry.' No, no, it's 'cut and dried' if it's all settled. And then some sports guy wrote that an effort was 'all for not.' That wants to be 'naught,' meaning 'nothing.' And, just for the novelty of a booboo I've never before seen, from a NYT blog: ‘The Clinton campaign is riding rodshot over the party.' Had to have meant 'roughshod,' so this is a wrong guess at both ends of the word. Amazing.

Truly rural

Is Bring Your Tractor to School Day at Howards Grove, Wis., High School.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Owing to my ignorance

commenting here has been available only to g-mail account holders. I just figured this out today, and everyone should be able to post comments now.

To all

A Happy Easter

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Good Friday gore

The mayhem is still rolling along in Chihuahua. Last week there was reported the murder of an agrarian leader near Casas Grandes, now we have eight brand-new shootings in Cd. Juárez and the police chief of Palomas seeking sanctuary in New Mexico after he was threatened. Palomas used to be a quiet little town where you could slip over and have a drink and dinner and pick up a jug. It has become a staging point for all kinds of contraband.
Ciudad Juárez was anything but calm, as police reported the eight killings on a day when long lines of traffic snaked through the city with Holy Week shoppers eager to cross international bridges into El Paso.

Read it all here.

Signs of the times

I'm sitting here looking at a little tree frog sitting, nose upward, on the window beside the computer. Been seeing them lately and occasionally hearing them. I'm fond of the little rascals; the tiniest of them look like active little emeralds. Also, I just experienced a sharp and sudden little stab on the first knuckle, middle finger, right hand and mashed a mosquito. Guess that means there's something for the frogs to eat. I've been noticing the odd out-of-town bird lately ... yesterday, I saw one Mississippi kite circling around with three or four plebeian laughing gulls, like a Lamborghini driving amid a pack of Ford Focuses. The kite is a most elegant bird. Actually, gulls aren't bad one at a time, but one seems always to see them in quantity. Gulls squawking in an H-E-B parking lot is a defining experience of life on the coast.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Feliz cumpleaños, Benito

Today is the birthday of Benito Juárez, perhaps the most impeccably admirable political figure of Mexico's history. He was a Zapotec Indian from the southern state of Oaxaca and a lawyer by training. Juárez had an adamantine integrity that remains admirable today; it's a great pity that the Mexican soil hasn't produced more such leaders. Parenthetically, I smoked my last cigarette ever on this date in 1985, in the bar of the Hotel Victoria in Chihuahua City. The Victoria was one of those grand old hotels from the early part of the 20th Century. It had a big lobby, sweeping staircases, lots of wood, and a bar with barmen in crisp starched coats. It's been torn down, no doubt replaced with something uglier.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cooking the numbers

When my wife started teaching, a crafty old veteran principal told her that any school that claimed to have a low dropout rate had figured out some way to jigger with the stats. Now the NYT notices that he was right. Read it all here. We ask our schools to do the impossible and then damn them when they fail. I myself always liked the suggestion by Dick Lamm -- just forget about dropout rates and let them go. Kids bent on leaving seldom do very well when they stay and are likely to be a drag on more serious students. We waste time and resources on the worst students that might better go to the middle-of-the-pack kids who could benefit by a little extra attention.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The lemon blossoms will almost knock you over with their sweetness. It looks like a good year for lemons, and we even have a few left on the tree from last year. The sunflowers volunteer underneath the bird feeders. Yesterday, the Garden Goddess showed me a peanut plant she'd discovered out in the front yard, no doubt a relic of sitting on the porch eating peanuts and drinking vino. It's amazing that pups didn't detect the nut.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


here's one of those goofy things that prove you can't believe your lying eyes. Look at it; it's cool.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Día San Patricio

From the Writer's Almanac:
When St. Patrick's Day is on a Friday, certain bishops grant a release from the traditional Lent Friday no-meat observance. This release is called the "corned-beef indult."
When I lived in Chicago, back in the late 60s & early 70s, they dyed the Chicago River green on St. P's Day; I expect they still do. Green was everywhere, as were drunks. The celebration for San Giuseppe, St. Joseph's Day, follows on March 19. Joseph is the patron saint of Italy. One should properly wear red for Beppe's day. The Italian guys at the Tribune were always grouchy about the attention given to the Irish patron. The food for San Giuseppe is much superior to that for St. Patrick.

Art for Paddy's Day, a stream in County Sligo ... Small wonder that the Irish of the diaspora held memories of home as the most beautiful place in the world.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Pore ol' Vicad has a story today where something is 'reeking havoc' on something. Reeking havoc is what we have when the pup rolls in rotten crab down on the waterfront and then jumps on the couch.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Just snapped

It's been the Ides of March all day long, but nothing to beware. It was a perfect day in paradise, high 80s and bright. Went to ANWR and saw whoopers way far away, little tiny white dots a thousand yards out there [thought they were gone home to Canada], ate a fine dinner of rare ribeye steak, drank some wine, enjoyed the company of friends. Bring on them Ideses.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A war against feline vermin

Attention, cat haters: There's money to be made in Randolph [Iowa], which is offering a $5 bounty for each feral feline turned in.

Now, there's an idea I can support as civic betterment. Read the whole NYTimes story here. Sap is rising in the local cat population, and an already obnoxious contingent is crowding closer in on my house. A large assortment of uninvited cats dines in my garage. One is a greatly gravid gray who looks ready to pop any minute, guaranteeing even more of the murderous and smelly creatures for the neighborhood. My wife claims two of the crowd -- Seadrift, a product of a prepotent Siamese tom who seems to have fathered half the cats in the village, and Verminella [I got to name her], the pocket panther. Two cats is plenty of cats to claim. Another freeloader is a tough old black-and-white tom. One of my neighbors calls him Sergeant Carter and another neighbor calls him Boss. That gives a sense of his presence. I kinda admire him.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


One of the many annoying things about not dying young is the constant accretion of little pains. My wife says her knees have been bothering her for some time. Along a few months back, my left hip started hurting, then my right hip. At first it was intermittent, but it becomes more constant. I play cards sometimes with a bunch of old guys. Thirty years ago, their talk would have been of liquor, love, and fights. Now, painkillers are a popular topic around the table. Strong votes for Tylenol from the aging-sport contingent. Peine forte et dure, pain strong and severe, was a judicial sentence in the Middle Ages. Payne, Fort & Dewar would be a good law firm name. It's a pain, pain, but at least it doesn't interfere with digestion. Does make one consider relocation to a higher and drier place. My bones are happier in New Mexico than here on the coast.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kids today ...

Mark Edmundson, an English prof at UVirginia, has some insightful observations in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the difference between this generation of college students and older people.
A Romantic, says Nietzsche, is someone who always wants to be elsewhere. If that's so, then the children of the Internet are Romantics, for they perpetually wish to be someplace else, and the laptop reliably helps take them there — if only in imagination. The e-mailer, the instant messenger, the Web browser are all dispersing their energies and interests outward, away from the present, the here and now. The Internet user is constantly connecting with people and institutions far away, creating surrogate communities that displace the potential community at hand.

Ultimately, I have to feel sad at the picture he paints of his students, but I'm a Romantic of an earlier sensibility, and when one of those hits Social Security age, there's likely to be a lot of elegiac retrospection and dreary harrumphing. I do get the perpetual wish to be otherwhere, just not via keyboard. Read all of Edmundson's essayhere. The link comes from Arts & Letters Daily.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hanky-panky, &c

The pious guv of New York gets caught fooling around and is terminally humiliated. What possesses these people to do stupid crap like that? Jeff Toobin was on one of the newsy channels last night, and said he was in law school with Spitzer and had always found him a straightest arrow. Interesting thing is that Spitzer is probably subject to a federal charge on a violation of the Mann Act, transporting a woman across a state line for immoral purposes. It was originally intended to scotch what was coyly called the white-slave trade, or, more simply put, prostitution. There's a lot of quasi-slave commerce in prostitutes in immigrant circles. Guess tricking is another one of those jobs that Americans won't do.
A long time ago, in a little town in northeast Oklahoma, I sorta knew a jolly undertaker, a merry mortician, raffish old guy who wore a straw skimmer without irony or a political label on it. Only time in my life I've seen that. Word around town was that he'd slipped up and taken some old gal across the state line to Fort Smith, Ark., for a bit of slap and tickle, and she'd used that fact to shake him down for a lot of money, as he had left himself liable to Mann Act charges. It could be true; it was told to me as true.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Funeral continues

We used to pick up the San Antonio paper on Sundays as a real-paper supplement to the Vicad. [When I told a friend that the Express-News was our NYTimes on Sundays, he rolled his eyes and made a pitying noise.] Then we suddenly couldn't get the E-N any longer. They'd pulled distribution back to their immediate trade area, the counties around Bexar.
So, we figured we'd go with the Houston paper ... not that crazy about it, but at least it had metropolitan newspaper content. Now the Chronicle has also discontinued distribution in these outlying counties. We can't buy in our village a newspaper from a big city. The newspaper biz is on sad times.
... The Q4 earnings reports show little to be optimistic about. E.W. Scripps said newspaper revenues fell 8% in 2007, largely due to competition from digital media.The Washington Post Company saw print revenue drop 11% in Q4 from a year earlier and full-year ad revenues were down 13%. McClatchy revenue was off 14% in January.
Gannett, whom Hawaii congressman Neil Abercrombie recently said is “doing great,” said January revenues fall 7.5%, driven by newspaper advertising revenue declines of 9.2%. Media General’s 8% drop in January revenues was largely due to a 17.3% decline in newspaper ad revenues, An ominous trend is that online revenue growth is slowing. January online revenue at the Post grew at 11% or half the growth rate of the previous January. McClatchy’s online sales growth was just 2.6% year-over-year.

You can follow some of the miseries of the business at

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Winter is putting on a last-ditch stand but in a losing retrograde action. This week I saw a pair of whitewings trying on a sorry little nest in the ash tree out front. Whitewings build flimsy nests at best, and this one's a leftover from last year. Out on the corner, there's a mocker that runs long, lovely solos late into the night. If he were on the bedroom side of the house, I could be irate with him, but, as it is, I simply admire his art. All day today, there's been a drop-dead-red cardinal hanging around on a branch of the big mesquite. You could drop his picture into a magazine spread of birds-of-paradise and he wouldn't be out of place. He's that gaudy. Friend wrote that a kid was going toward Mexico to meet spring on the way up here. I used to make Laredo runs in the spring for just that purpose. Eat a little goat meat, play the ponies and pups when that track was running, buy a jug. If we spent a couple of days there, when we were homeward bound we'd find spring a bit north of where we passed it on the way down.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

G&D updates

In the clearest sign yet of a recession, U.S. nonfarm payrolls fell by 63,000 in February, the second straight decline in employment, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Rest here.

Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggest that economic growth has slowed since the beginning of the year. Two-thirds of the Districts cited softening or weakening in the pace of business activity, while the others referred to subdued, slow, or modest growth. Retail activity in most Districts was reported to be weak or softening, although tourism generally continued to expand.

Rest here.

And, finally
The median household earned $48,201 in 2006, down from $49,244 in 1999, according to the Census Bureau. It now looks as if a full decade may pass before most Americans receive a raise.

Rest here.

The Euro is now worth $1.54 in U.S. pesos, oil was at $106/bbl Friday, and the gummint is gonna make me a gift of the price of about five boxes of good cigars and borrow the money to do it, leaving me to pay back the loan.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

More oil

Timothy Egan is the author of a wonderful book, The Worst Hard Time, a recounting of the miseries of the Dust Bowl of the 30s. It's an educational read for people who believe that nature is so huge that the acts of man cannot affect her. Egan has a blog for the NYTimes, and a recent post on oil is fascinating.
From the steps of the Supreme Court to the White House press room, from global trading exchanges to the snowy reaches of Alaska — over the last week, you could hear the creak of history as it began to pivot in a half-dozen locales.

The Age of Oil is at an end. Maybe not this year. Maybe not for five years. But signs of the coming collapse are evident.

The entire post is here, and the comments are likewise worth a scan.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The journalist's lament

Journalists are an angry lot these days and now there's a Web site,, where you can read their grievances. It's no secret that the business of journalism is in a most distressful state. Publishers scramble madly to slant their publications to a population that has no interest in reading anything longer than fifteen words. At the same time, the mags and papers treat their older readership with dismissive contempt, refusing to keep features that the reading generation cherishes. I frequently counsel bright, wordy youngsters against going into journalism ... Why buy poverty when you can have it for nothing? Freelance writing pays about the same as it was paying 20 years ago, when I last did much of it. Starting reporters in our part of the world earn about 60% of first-year teacher salaries, yet everyone goes on endlessly about how badly teachers are paid.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why you should worry about Social Security

A guy who really knows a bit about economics testified last week in front of a Senate committee about the costs of Junior's dreadful little war.
... The witnesses included the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz (who believes the overall costs of the war — not just the cost to taxpayers — will reach $3 trillion), and Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.
Both men talked about large opportunities lost because of the money poured into the war. “For a fraction of the cost of this war,” said Mr. Stiglitz, “we could have put Social Security on a sound footing for the next half-century or more.”

You can read the entire story here. Let's just go ahead and impeach the rat-faced frat boy and get him out of the way a little early. He's the worst president this poor country ever endured and should be impeached and, on his removal from office, tried for treason, found guilty, and dealt with appropriately as a traitor.

Primary day

We walked over to City Hall and voted this morning. Fifty-one Ds and eight Rs had voted when we went through. I don't like Hillary, don't trust Barack, and couldn't see John McCain, though I admired him in Aught-Aught when he was slimed by the odious Karl Rove acting for Junior. His enthusiasm for a long occupation in Iraq appalls me. Also, I have been annoyed by his smirking dismissal of Ron Paul during the R debates. I wish John Edwards were truly on the ballot; I voted for him anyhow, since they hadn't pulled his name. Seems like for the last 20 years, most of my votes have been protests or hold-your-nose compromises, and I'm tired of it all. In national elections, realistically, one's vote is of no consequence.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Viva la independencia

It won't get one-tenth the attention here in Texas of Cinco de mayo or the 16th of September, but today is the anniversary of the Texas Declaration of Independence, an enormously nervy maneuver that has served us very well until recently, when the invading hordes from Mexico have bid to cancel the breach. Took really brave people to do what they did, the Texian patriots who cut the ties.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

More four-buck gas

Friend forwards a link to an LATimes piece on the price of petrol:
Bush's acknowledged unfamiliarity with the recent cost of gasoline produced some fumes at the pump.
At a Shell service station in the Bay Area city of San Mateo, the price of a gallon of regular had already reached $4.29, well above the state average of $3.42, as measured by the AAA auto club.

Fancy that! Four twenty-nine already. Read it all here. If you're not registered, you'll have to do that, but it's a paper that covers a lot of ground, so it's worth checking in there from time to time.


Friend sends a forward from a South Asian newspaper:
"'Wait, what did you just say? You're predicting $4 a gallon gasoline? Oh, yeah? That's interesting. I hadn't heard that." -- George W. Bush
'The U.S. president was responding to a reporter's question about the possibility of gas prices rising to $4 a gallon.'
Is that boy dumb or what? When they're snickering about you in Malaysia, they're snickering about you everywhere.

Going into rehab a la gangster

From the World's Worst Newspaper, some odd and interesting stuff on gangs:
In one of the strangest twists in February's court hearings, it was revealed that the gang operates a drug rehabilitation center in Juárez for "la familia," a code name for its members, a few blocks from the U.S. border.
The rehab center was necessary because the gang, which has dealt heroin on El Paso's streets, had some of its members fall prey to the highly addictive drug, gang enforcement officers said.

There's more about the Barrio Aztecas here, plus a click-through to another story about the Aztecas considering that they own the streets of the border city.