Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On aging

On my 21st birthday, back in 1964, I got a spaghetti dinner – red sauce cooked for hours with a nice tough cut of chuck that makes a tasty meal. Almost every birthday since then I've had the same meal, cooking most of them for myself. One of those little personal traditions we have. This year we'll have it with an antipasto, some beer bread, a salad, some sturdy vino, and an Italian lemon ice, my wife's contribution. I always enjoy it; some years there will be only a couple of people, some years eight or ten. This year there's me and herself, my primo and his daughter, who stands as kinda a quasi-daughter to me, then friend Mike and his friend. Should be fun. The old annometer is clicking over another 365, or 366 this year, to make me 66 years old. My wife points out that this is two-thirds of the number of the beast. I'm not sure what her point is. We swear we will live the next month on lettuce dressed with lemon juice and clear spring water, to make up for the self-inflicted damages of the gluttony season that runs from T'giving until now. Próspero año nuevo, y'all.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The times

There's a real estate-finance site that entertains and edifies me. A recent commenter posted ' / Detroit. / 2691 listings found / $1-$9999.' Imagine that ... houses under $10k in a major city, although a major city in extremis. Apparently the r.e. markets in Califa and Arizona are awash in blood. Despite that, when I'm wandering through the channels I still see those shows where annoying yuppies look at houses and talk about making money reselling them. I wonder if this isn't something like that light we see from far-away stars, stars astronomers tell us have gone extinct since the light set out on its trip across the cosmos. Or maybe looking at 1920s nudie photos and knowing all the lovely, voluptuous girls are surely dead by now. On a thread some time back, one commenter wrote, 'The hell with gold, I'm buying guns and rice.'

Friday, December 26, 2008

Better spam

This came, the same thing in Spanish at the top and this at the bottom, obviously run through a translating device:
Please forgive us to disturb your valued time.
This is a big wholesale company in china, sell electronic products to all the world,such as laptop, camera, phone and so on. We can offer the low price and high quality to you. If you have free time, please take a few to visit our official website:
Then any qualm, please contact us freely.
Mail :

I expected something different and livelier from a site titled


From my wife, under subject line 'shoulda made a mince pie,' this:
On this day in 1666, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:
25. Christmas day. Lay pretty long in bed. And then rise, leaving my wife desirous to sleep, having sat up till 4 this morning seeing her maids make mince-pies. I go to church, where our parson Mills made a good sermon. Then home, and dine well on some good ribs of beef roasted and mince pies; only my wife, brother, and Barker, and plenty of good wine of my own; and my heart full of true joy and thanks to God Almighty for the goodness of my condition at this day.

Think that came from the Writer's Almanac for yesterday. We had the good ribs of beef – ate almost all of what was billed as rib roast sufficient for eight – and good wine of our own, and enjoyed the company of the girl. My brandy was, as predicted, resupplied by Santa, and I am now dashing fearlessly into the last decade of the 20th Century with a cell phone. I've not had one, as it always seemed to me that giving people the wherewithal to annoy the hell out of you at all times and places is not actually progress. However, the arguments for it finally outweigh the technophobic revulsion, so I've got one. My wife said the last post here sounded like Oliver Twist, what's with the ball of kitchen string. Said it sounded as if kitchen string was all I got. This year, I got a sack of cornmeal with an Italian alias, polenta. It's milled somewhere nearby, so it fits the local-eating theme that is likely to be forced on us by changing transportation methods.
The girl gave us frequent-flier miles she'd accumulated at work, miles sufficient to see us to New York for a dog-sitting gig in February. The girl, bless her gravid little heart, is due to deliver about the same time and can't use the miles herself. It was a generous gift. I'm already figuring out which sandwich to have at Katz's Deli [pastrami, I think] and which museums to visit.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Xmas Eve

Went into town yesterday to do some clean-up shopping and get the wherewithal for the big meal tomorrow. 'The Little Drummer Boy' finally caught up to me; I'd managed to avoid hearing it until yesterday afternoon. May be one of the better runs on that … in the past, friends who know how much I dislike the song would sometimes call me and then hold their phone up to a radio where it was playing. Went into Dillard's and found things totally uncrowded, was obliged to wait only a couple of minutes to check out. People seemed in a good mood, perhaps because things were non-frantic. The seers and pundits warn that we can look for some big retailers to go into bankruptcy about Feb, when the full horror of the season has been processed through the system.
Meantime, I have shrimp bisque cooking and a copita of Chilean white at hand, the dogs are quiet for the moment, and the world's a decent sort of place. My wife used my last few drops of brandy to make some sort of cookie, but when I whined and shrieked she said perhaps Santa knew that my brandy supply was low. I can but hope. Last year I got, among other things, a ball of cotton kitchen twine. I was glad to have it. I needed it. A fine Christmas to all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On it flows

Some of the non-border news organizations have begun to cover the situation in Cd. Juárez, but the news on the site is more thorough. From KVIA-TV, a Las Cruces outfit:
JUAREZ -- Six municipal police officers have been killed in conflicts with drug cartel members since Sunday.
One of the officers killed was with a group of four men who were shot and killed outside the Juarez Racetrack. The off-duty officer was left decapitated with a Santa Claus hat at his feet.

Read it all here. OK, horrifying story, with bit of what my wife calls the Three Stooges touch that you find in Mexican violence, as if Curly and Moe actually gouged out eyes when they were fooling around, but still, ya know, police officers threatened by dopers ...
Then there's the other side to Mexican police work:
JUAREZ -- Chihuahua State Police officers arrested five suspects - including two Juarez Municipal Police officers -- who allegedly broke into a bank and stole almost $150,000.

Read all that one here. Most Mexicans of my acquaintance regarded all Mexican police as almost certainly criminals and would not call them or go to them.

Down by the river

Some of the non-border news organizations have begun to cover the situation in Cd. Juárez, but the news on the site is more thorough. From KVIA-TV, a Las Cruces outfit:

JUAREZ -- Six municipal police officers have been killed in conflicts with drug cartel members since Sunday.
One of the officers killed was with a group of four men who were shot and killed outside the Juarez Racetrack. The off-duty officer was left decapitated with a Santa Claus hat at his feet.

OK, horrifyint story, with a
JUAREZ -- Chihuahua State Police officers arrested five suspects - including two Juarez Municipal Police officers -- who allegedly broke into a bank and stole almost $150,000. -

Friday, December 19, 2008

$17bn? A trifle, a bagatelle

A funny comment from a finance-RE blog I frequent when red wine isn't depressive enough. Guy writing about auto bailout: 'What's the big deal. It's not even half a Madoff.' So, there's a new unit for the measurement of money, the Madoff. One Madoff=$50bn.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

'Sad news …'

It happens more and more often these days … I'll get a little note from some old friend, most always with a subject line reading 'sad news,' reporting the death of one of our classmates. This week it happened again. An old and dear in Fort Sumner sent a note that a schoolmate of mine from 1951 to 1956 had died, burial Friday at that lonesome cemetery up on the hill north of town. The guy who died was a country boy, lived on a farm in the valley. Sometimes he and his father would come to church completely ragged out from irrigating all night. I often went home with him after church. His mother set a good table, honest and sturdy country cooking, befitting their way of life. They had freezer full of beef and pork and always vegetables she'd frozen or put up. His father raised a few fighting cocks out by the barn; he'd take them over to the pit behind the bar in Taiban. I have no idea of his success but it gave him an interest beyond working on the farm. I expect their cash income was pretty small, but they lived well as far as the things that counted.
My friend was a chunky kid, fat you might even say if you were ungenerous. I was grateful for that because I, a year younger than my classmates and tiny, could outrun him sometimes. It saved me from always being the slowest boy in PE class.
They had old mattresses set up side by side down at his house, and we'd hold wrestling matches on them. A big kid who spent his summers bucking bales of alfalfa had a certain advantage, but it was fun.
He finished a PhD in mathematics, I believe, and taught. I once saw his name on a comment in the same string I was on in a NYT forum. I expect it's been 50 years since I last saw him. Maybe three years ago his wife, a very pretty lady, showed up at a class reunion to represent him to his friends. I hope they had some good years together. Few years back he'd had a blood clot get loose during surgery and get to his brain, leaving him in a wheelchair. I assume that's what got him. He was a nice kid and I expect he grew to be a good man, as mostly happens. I'm sorry he's dead.

Bailouts for the moribund

Roger Cohen, writing an Op-Ed for the NYT, has some good points about bailing out the car-makers. He takes off from the death of Pan-Am and the artificially extended life of Italy's Alitalia with its gummint underpinning. He writes:
The whole financial crisis is about the death of responsibility: the buck stopped nowhere. Everyone profited from toxic paper. Bernard Madoff, he of the alleged multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, is only the latest example.
Irresponsibility has also characterized Detroit. I don’t see how you restore responsibility with a bailout. Obama has a deeper task than changing the economy; he has to change the culture.
Rather than adopting European subsidies, put billions toward more inspiring European examples: a high-speed railroad network or universal health care.

Read all here. I find myself mostly agreeing with his take on this money gusher for loser businesses.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Old pics

There's something really compelling about old photographs. I think everyone feels the pull to look at the faces of people long dead and places long fallen down. There is on the wall before me a picture of three pretty girls in white dresses standing on a dock in Port Lavaca on Graduation Day, 1910. In the background is a gaff-rigged sailboat, a working boat, I'd guess. I wonder what happened to the happy girls. Got the pic at the Roseate Spoonbill Gallery in Port Lavaca, a goldmine of old pics of Calhoun County. Here is a site, Shorpy, named for a young Alabama worker in some of the photos. It's fun to look at.
When I was a little boy, my grandmother had a candy tin full of old photos. I can see it now, dark orange with a floral design on the top. A lot of the pictures were tintypes of the ancestors, and I'd give a pretty penny to have them and know who the people were with their stiff collars and nipped-in waists. I spent a lot of time sitting on Gran's livingroom floor looking at them.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Goofy little thingy

I'm amazed by some of the stuff lying out there on the Web. There are so many sites like this one. You click on the little ball to change color. It obviously involved a considerable amount of programming skill and time invested. I guess the people that make them just do it to show their virtuosity to the world, like singers want to sing to someone and writers want to be read.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shoeing out Shrub

W, the lamest duck that ever waddled, went to Iraq on an unannounced visit, and an Iraqi journalist winged a brogue at him. There is already chatter out on the blogs that a second shoe actually came from a nearby grassy knoll. Also, the journalist called W a dog. I've been using a sorta variation of that epithet for eight years now, as, 'That dumb sumbitch is gonna destroy this country.' Wonder how he feels handing over a devastated country to the next guy?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Train wrecks continue

Some amusing news lately from the heights of the big-time money business, what's with the guy caught up in Canada pretending to be someone else and then the guy who apparently scammed $50bn, mostly from a bunch of rich people [where else are you gonna be able to scam that kind of money?]. Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, writing in Vanity Fair, outlines the twisted path that has led us to this pass, with special lumps for Henry Paulson and especially for Alan Greenspan, whose reputation has slid faster than the DJIA. Stiglitz writes
What were the critical decisions that led to the crisis? Mistakes were made at every fork in the road—we had what engineers call a “system failure,” when not a single decision but a cascade of decisions produce a tragic result. …

Read all here. I hope the anti-labor undertone I hear in some of the talk on TV isn't an indication that the plutocrats are going for the coup de grace, hoping to finish off the beat-up remnants of what was once the finest working class in the world. The oligarchs might be surprised if they push the theme of class warfare too hard and actually get some class warfare instead of the cowed acquiescence that they've had for twenty or thirty years.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Passing sadly noted

Like most of the hoary-headed set, I carefully read the death notices page in the paper, checking ages mostly, as we've not been around here long enough to accumulate a large group of friends that we can watch die off. This morning I was saddened to read "COLUMBUS – Bill Stein, age 54, of Columbus, passed away peacefully at his home on Dec. 9, 2008. He was a historian and county archivist of Colorado County."
I had interviewed Bill a couple of times for stories and run into him a couple of times out in the world. He was of the wonderful tribe of Texas small-town historians, and his knowledge of Colorado County was amazing. He was bright, entertaining, and funny. His death is a loss to everybody who cares about our collective past.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Big news: Chicago corrupt

There has been a fine hooha in the public prints the last couple days over a criminal complaint brought against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich for auctioning off the Senate seat that Barack Obama is leaving behind. Chicago D politics are astonishing in their corruption, and sadly Chicago R politics often consist in wanting to get at the trough. When I first got there I was taken aback by all the police being on the take, all govt agents such as building inspectors being on the take, pretty much everything being up for sale. I finally figured out that Chicago was like Mexico and used that perspective as a key to understanding, but it didn't make me happy to know that an American city was so corrupt. Novelist Scott Turow, whose fictional Kindle County is obviously Cook County, has explored the nature of the corruption in his books. He has an interesting Op-Ed in today's NYTimes on the case prosecutor's case. Read it here. [A lawyer, Turow is the writer James Grisham would be if Grisham were a good writer.]
The prosecuting attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, is US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. He prosecuted the previous Illinois governor successfully and prosecuted in the Scooter Libby case. In other words, he is not afraid of the powerful.
I think that we should take a crummy billion dollars out of all the bail-out bucks floating around and establish under Fitzgerald a special prosecutor's office to investigate Wall Street misdeeds in the years leading up to the present market meltdown. Give him troops of forensic accountants, phalanxes of special agents, and let them smite the wicked. See them ol' big dogs shuffling out of the courtroom wearing shackles and ugly orange jailhouse jumpsuits … that'd make the IRA shrinkage a little more bearable.
[As a parenthetical addition, the paper tells us that Jesse Jackson Jr. was the potential Senatorial appointee whose purported agents were most engaged with the governor in the bidding. Oh, please, let it be true and let JJ Sr. be involved. We'll never get Senior for all the extortionate shakedowns he's committed over the last forty years, but maybe we could nail him, like OJ and Al Capone, for something else.]

Monday, December 8, 2008

Casualty count, other fronts

A former colleague sends a little note with recent bloodshed in journalism business. In part:
So Trib is about to go bankrupt:
While NYT mortgages the house to pay its bills:
WaPo raises its newstand price to 75 cents (that's just brilliant: demand is lower so you increase your price)

Plus he had a sad story about a journalist worried about his future. For another sad story on eminent death of an old and respected paper, the Rocky Mountain News, as well as some more Chitrib info, click here for the Newspaper Death Watch site. I worked as a printer at the Chitrib 1969–72 and the Monkey Rotten News from fall 1967–spring 1968. Both were, in their own ways, good papers and good competition for the other rags in their cities. Competition made newspapers better. The News is 149 years old. What a shame to see the end of something that old. When I went to Chicago, there was head-to-head competition both mornings and evenings. Chicago was a great newspaper town and produced a lot of good journalists. I got to read three or four different papers every day. I'm glad I saw those places in those times. A cool thing about South America was the newspaper kiosks on every corner and people reading papers everywhere.

Casualty count

From the World's Worst Newspaper:
JUAREZ-- At least 28 people, including 10 people in two separate mass shootings at bars, were slain over the weekend in Juárez, Mexican authorities said.

Rest here. They can easily reach a body count of 1500 before Jan. 1. Poor Juárez …

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A beef beef

Guy asks why I've not ranted lately about meat prices. I have, just not in print. I've had a lot of sticker-shock moments the last few months ... pick up something I'm used to buying, look at the price tag, and set it back down and walk off whimpering. My favorite cigars went from $25 a bundle to $27 to $29 in just a few months. I'm trying occasionally to smoke one fewer a day to make up the damage.
But, the meat, yes. Been a little cool, soup weather, and I had some odds and ends of vegetables in the bin, plus I got some barley a little while back [I like barley in vegetable soup]. Used to be you could buy soup bones for maybe a dime a pound. Hell, some places a butcher'd give you two or three pounds of bones, call 'em dog bones. I used to use beef shank for soup; it's got a lot of collagen, makes a rich and thick stock, but it's a prime ingredient of caldo de res, so the price has gotten a little high for a cheap meal. Asked my wife to bring me some soup bones and she came back with a package of bones – really, bones – with a price tag of $2.33 on them for a pound and a little bit more. Two bucks a pound for bones. I roasted them and made a nice stock but couldn't bear a meatless soup, so I went to the corner here looking for some cheap beef to throw into the pot. Ended up with three pieces of cross-cut short ribs. Nice cut, short ribs, meat on the bone is tasty ... used to braise short ribs with tomato sauce and thyme, used to bone them out and make stew with them, they sell the cross-cuts in Laredo as costillas, very nice. My short ribs cost me $7.12. The soup was aces, but it should be, since it had almost ten bucks worth of meat in it. What next? Not lower meat prices behind dropping feed prices, of that I am certain. And have you checked out the price of tongue lately?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Newspaper stuff

The little arts & entertainment tabloid insert in today's Vicad was an incoherent mishmash. I don't know if it was an accident or a purposive collaboration between graphics designer and reporter.
From a recent post on the Angry Journalist site:
I’m angry that my newspaper just let four seasoned, talented journalists go. Meanwhile, readers are treated to the self-absorbed prattle of a young staffer about her engagement, her tattoos and whatever pops into her head - usually with extra exclamation points. …

Is vapid, narcissistic writing a trend, the next big thing?

And on it goes

Finally the bloodshed in Mexico gets a little ink nationally in the US. From the NYT:
… With alarming speed, Mexico’s violent drug war is finding its way into the seeming sanctuary of the nation’s hospitals, shaking the health care system and leaving workers fearing for their lives while trying to save the lives of others.

Read all that here, a piece on the dopers' incursions into even the hospitals. I remember maybe ten years back some doctors ended up in barrels of concrete in Wazoo. I drove often past the hospital where they worked, and poor Cd. Juárez continues to drown in blood.
EL PASO - Chihuahua state police said armed bands shot seven people to death in separate incidents Thursday in Juárez.

Read all that one here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cool old gals

Guy who sends me stuff sends me a link to a blog written by two old gals – I mean really old, not just ol' gals – who are truly entertaining and vinegary. The blog is called Margaret and Helen. As a sample, Helen writes
It seems that a lot of people are upset with me because I am being unfair to the Governor of Oil Land. They claim that I really don’t know her… that I only know the biased view of her as portrayed by the evil liberal media. Folks, I’ve got news for you. Katie Couric stuck a microphone in front of your favorite moose hunter and when she opened her mouth a whole lot of stupid came falling out. Seriously. Defend “You can see Russia from Alaska” when asked about national defense. It doesn’t matter on what channel or to what reporter you say that. It’s stupid on CBS and CNN and it’s stupid on Fox News. Of course “stupid on Fox News” is kind of redundant.

Turns out that my wife has had them on her regular daily trapline of blogs. I'm always the last to know what's the thing to be doing. You can read them here. I saw Palin recently; she'd been mucking around in Georgia, I think. That poor, stupid creature thinks she's gonna be president. I guess there's some regrettable recent precedent for poor, stupid creatures ascending to the office.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Old house in Brookline, Mass.

When I visited Boston I stayed with an old friend who lives in Brookline, an incorporated enclave inside Boston, like Alamo Heights in San Antonio. He lives in the second oldest frame house in the U.S., built in the 1680s. That's oooooold. 'Frame' isn't like framed with two-by-four scantlings; 'frame' is big-mama beams cut from tree trunks. In one of the bathrooms he has put a clear cover over some of the old stuff he found in the walls of the house, so you can contemplate it at contemplative moments. The heat mostly comes from a wood stove, working better than you might think. To preserve authenticity, he painted the ceiling with a wash from a recipe he found somewhere esoteric. The wash is made from salt and water and maybe lime. It doesn't stick so well, but is non-toxic. If it falls onto the food it probably adds savor and maybe calcium, so desirable for strong bones. It's a cool old house. JFK was born in Brookline; we drove past the house. There are a lot of Russian Jews there, and the local paper has some ads in Cyrillic alphabets. We could walk easily down the river to the Museum of Fine Arts, maybe a mile and a quarter away. The river drops only one foot in a mile. There are so many Canadian geese that they constitute a nuisance. For some reason, the street people don't eat them, as they surely would in Austin. I had gumbo thoughts myself.