Saturday, March 29, 2008

“He that goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing”

Here is another maligned minority ready to blame others for its own actions, and expecting the taxpayer to foot the bill: “FORECLOSURE VICTIMS INVADE BEAR STEARNS HQ, PICKET JP MORGAN.” It’s not that our hearts do not go out to those people, but why should those not in foreclosure pay for another person’s poor judgment or even avarice?

Lost in the recent high stakes financial shenanigans are the savers, people who did not avail themselves of “easy money,” to buy homes beyond their economic reach. Or those who refused to be seduced by home equity loans to buy into the American dream of vacations, new cars, the easy, beautiful life which assaults us in an continuous loop on the media. Or those in retirement who are dependent on their savings and social security to see them through. They are everything our government is not: responsible, truthful, balancing their budgets at all costs.

How can we punish savers? Let’s start by giving them investment options based on chimerical ratings that are established by rating agencies paid by the very institutions they are rating. Then let’s ratchet down their income from CDs as we try to bail out an economy of credit excesses. Let helicopter dollars rain down on all [] to encourage more spending! But, that’s not enough; let their government take an unprecedented $29 billion dollar risk, ultimately at the taxpayer’s expense, to bail out the bond and equity holders of Bear Stearns (an action rationalized as needed to save our entire financial system). Let’s also talk about eliminating a more progressive graduated income tax in favor of a flat tax so, when savers spend their savings, which have already been taxed once when they were first earned, let’s tax them again via a national sales tax. While we’re at it, let’s also undermine the dollar and introduce inflation so their savings buy less. Then, finally, as social security benefits are adjusted by inflation, let’s artificially understate the real inflation rate to further erode their benefits!

What would Ben Franklin say today, “he that goes a-saving goes a-slaving?”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Horses Can't Read

Some of the most beautiful scenic photographs I’ve taken have been somewhere in the Caribbean, but here are a couple that just simply make me smile. Horses in a cemetery was taken on one of the Bahamian islands and Johnny’s’ Ice Cold Nuts was precariously perched on a street in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Silda, You Are Us

If you’ve seen the two brief news conferences where New York Governor Eliot Spitzer first admitted his appalling indiscretions and then when he announced his resignation, the image of the sad, shocked face of his wife, Silda, who stood by her man during the news conference, is indelibly etched in your mind’s eye, as it is mine.

The microcosm of the event is bad enough, a man who overzealously campaigned against the very thing he indulged in, one who was born into privilege and pursued power behind the veil of championing the public good. Perhaps self-loathing led him to become the Elmer Gantry of public prosecutors. His downfall might evoke the Aristotelian definition of tragedy, but it fails on the measure of not evoking pity. He got his just due. The only pity we can feel is for his wife and his children.

But as a metaphor, Silda’s sad visage is emblematic of our own crisis, watching our country’s cultural and economic decline. We stand by, helpless, shocked, bewildered.

American industry and values were once the envy of the world. The “arrogance of power,” as the late Senator Fulbright put it (“the tendency of great nations to equate power with virtue and major responsibilities with a universal mission”), dragged us into Vietnam and now Iraq. We seem to be content following na├»ve or morally corrupt political leaders, damn future generations. Rack up debt, abandon the environment, and watch our educational system become one of the least effective of all developed nations. Our financial institutions are so unstable that Federal Reserve is now financing the excesses of this decade, with unknown consequences in the future.

Our energy policy is suicidal, a stake in the heart of the dollar, as we are content to massively export our dollars abroad to feed an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. Greater reliance on alternative energy, within our technological reach, remains elusive thanks to the lack of leadership ( And we now share oil and basic material resources with rapidly developing emerging economies, and there is no world solidarity about how to deal with the consequences to the environment.

With no incumbents running for the presidency, we might have had a chance to begin to expunge short-term thinking from the political agenda. But the Democratic primaries have dissipated into political demagoguery, with race rising to the surface. Republican and Democratic candidates alike claim to have a “plan” to deal with the economy, education, the environment, Iraq, terrorism, but these “plans” seem like nothing more than sound bites to get elected.

To be effective, our new President needs to be inspirational, someone who knows how to unite disparate voices, reach across congressional isles, and mobilize the best minds to reverse our spiraling decline. One has to wonder where we would be if the popular vote had determined the Presidency in 2000. We now need to be concerned about the consequences if Democratic “superdelegates” ignore the Democratic primary popular vote.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Words Do This

Why write this blog? I tried to explain the motivation in my first entry (, but did so in a tentative, self-conscious way. Self-consciousness immobilizes writing and I was reminded of this in a recent email exchange I had with my friend, Art.

First a little background. We met Art and his lovely wife Sydelle on a cruise to the Caribbean after I retired. They had been teachers in the New York City Public School system, dedicated and deserving Purple Hearts for their service. They have wide-ranging interests, traveling the world, staying in elder hostels and constantly learning.

Art is active in woodworking design and sculpture and still plays organized softball and, Sydelle, who has a beautiful voice, performs in local theater groups, and has a wonderful sense of humor, something she demonstrated when they attended my 65th birthday party. She wrote and designed a special birthday card, parodying the lyrics of nine songs from Oklahoma. I particularly like the one that is set to the music of “The Farmer and The Rancher”…

The piano and his books they
are his friends.
The piano and his books they
are his friends.

He stays at home to play
the keys.
Grabs a book and starts
to read.
Bob is happy with his
little friends.

It’s a wonder that he likes us
It’s a wonder we all think
It’s a wonder he invites us
We liked him better when he
used to drink!

It is creative and funny (to those who know me) as it comes close to the bone. Good writing, even parody, explores the truth, no matter how indelicate.

Art had emailed about my modest blog efforts saying, “I've always been reluctant to attempt to write creatively.” He then went on to relate a fascinating story about how he recently reconnected with a friend after losing track for fifty years. As I said to Art in my response, “But, you complain that you are not a writer, and what an interesting note! I think good writing is to say what you want/need to say and do so truthfully. And that is what you did telling me about your friend. Methinks, you ought to get busy on your own blog and not be self-conscious, which is the biggest enemy when I write. Another problem is expectations, mostly my own, pertaining to topics and how often I might write. It sometimes feels like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors is crying out to me, ‘Feed Me.’ I’m trying not to be a slave to it.”

And writing is work, to get it right, at least from the writer’s viewpoint. It is also solitary, something I’m comfortable with although I’m out of sync with many of my contemporaries who prefer playing golf or bridge. I have nothing against this, but I’m too compulsive and competitive to play games that would distract from my own interests.

Not long ago I read the 70-year old classic by Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write; A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. It is less about “how to write” than it is about the philosophy of writing. As Ueland clarifies, “At last I understood that writing was about this: an impulse to share with other people a feeling of truth that I myself had. Not to preach to them, but to give it to them if they cared to hear it. If they did not – fine. They did not need to listen. That was all right too…. You should work from now on until you die, with real love and imagination and intelligence, at your writing or whatever work it is that you care about. If you do that, out of the mountains that you write some mole hills will be published…. But if nothing is ever published at all and you never make a cent, just the same it will be good that you have worked.” On a subliminal level those words probably in part led me to write this blog, as working on it is productive and meaningful (to me at least), as is practicing the songs from the Great American Songbook, trying to interpret the compositions of Bill Evans, or, I guess, working at one’s golf game if that’s what you care about.

Given my profession, publishing, I have known many writers, some eminent in their fields. But I love following the progress of my older son’s writing (Chris). He is a natural and I’ve encouraged him to bring his gift to a broader audience. But he writes mainly for himself, “with real love and imagination and intelligence.”

A while ago he wrote a playful piece, spot on this topic, so appropriate that I borrowed one of his lines for the title of this entry. Now, I hope he does not mind my closing by quoting it in its entirety:

Why Am I A Writer?

I am not a writer. The words volunteer to join my feelings. I pay them no money.

Most words volunteer their time because they are bored with their lives. They are used to the same routine day in and day out at other jobs: Journalism, Cubicle Jobs, Entertainment, Internet, History. Most of them have been saying the same thing to the world. Things they say they are not interested in. There is no use for the words in their other jobs; so they end up coming to me.

"I have no resources, I can't pay you anything," I say to them.

"It doesn't matter." they say, "We don't judge"

I told them they could stay for as long as they want. There's not much overhead to house them, feed them or keep them around. "You think you'll have a career with me?" I asked.

"It doesn't matter. We have transferable skills," they mentioned. "If we can't continue with your organization, we could probably get much higher, more in-demand jobs."

"There are times I don't want to write. I don't have anything to say." I said. "What will you do then? Won't you get bored and leave?"

"We don't usually do that unless what you write about us is boring. We don't care if you don't use us; it’s what you say which will probably be the deciding factor."

"I'm afraid you’re boring me, and I don't want to use words anymore."

"I don't think you have a choice. You're stuck with us whether you like it or not."

"Not necessarily. 'Actions speak louder than words'. I can simply not write and let you fellows go on your own. I can bike, swim, get a job, climb a mountain, make love, go shopping, or any number of things. There would be no need to write about these things. I would be free.

"Free? How do you think you will be free of us? You're conscious of this freedom, this thing you call 'time' which lives in your mind."

(‘Freedom’ was the only word that would not volunteer in my vocabulary. I remembered her saying that she was too busy to talk with me. She gave me her cell number and said I should call her tomorrow.)

"We know what you're saying, and we don't care"

"I know," I admitted. "You came and ruined me."

"It’s not that we meant it,” they said, trying to be empathetic. "It’s just that our jobs are to be pragmatic, to say what there is to say about you."

"Why am I a writer, then, when I would feel like this?"

"We couldn't answer that. We let others do that for us."

"What others?"

"You know," they whispered, "out there". They pointed outside my window.

"The world? Are you saying people who read this?"

"It doesn't have to be read if you're a writer."

"What does that mean?"

"Words do this."

Friday, March 7, 2008

For the Birds

I guess I am, although ornithology is not my area of expertise. But Florida, where we now live, is also home to a wonderful variety of birds. Our house is situated on a long, broad waterway.Pelicans swoop down along the waterway, and a variety of birds regularly visit the pilings at our dock, including a young eagle, an occasional ibis or blue heron and the ubiquitous seagull.

But my favorite-feathered visitor is the annual arrival of a pair of Mourning Doves. They found our Mediterranean style roof, with exposed rafters attached to the overhanging eaves, an ideal spot to build a nest. We came across their first nest several years ago right over our front door so during the nesting period we could not use the door without disturbing them, and, of course, their droppings discouraged using that entrance as well.

So while we were too late to dissuade them from situating the nest over our front door, I looked into “bird-blocking” products to discourage such future activity and ordered something that was “guaranteed” to work, without injuring the bird. What arrived was something that looked like a small plastic barbed wire (without the barbs, though), which I could not bring myself to install. Instead, I resolved (for the following year, if the doves returned) to find a way to “invite” them to move down a few feet to another part of the ledge.

Sure enough, the next spring they arrived (whether they were the same pair or the prior year’s nestlings is unknown) and I placed a broom on the ledge over the front door. So they reconnoitered another part of the ledge and began to build their nest there.

As I had removed their old nest, and was now witness to their pathetic efforts to build a new one (doves are notoriously inept nest builders I learned), guilt and empathy drove me into their employ, gathering little twigs, laying them on the ground near the nest, to expedite the process. I smiled at this prospect as only a few years before I was CEO of an international publishing company, with hundreds of employees, and I now toil for a couple of birds who do not seem to have the foggiest idea how to build a secure nest.

My doves seemed to be equally perplexed by the actions of this interloper but I suppose they sized me up as not being a threat, and ultimately accepted me as part of the “team” using most of the twigs I gathered.

They are funny but beautiful birds with their soft cooing sounds. They walk around in our courtyard, seemingly in random patterns, blinking their eyes, suddenly flying off to wherever they fly off to. Before they lay their eggs, they do not inhabit the nest, leaving after their day’s work and returning with the morning sun to continue construction. Once the eggs are laid one is always there.

In a few weeks the chicks are born and the parents seem to “dare” them to fly, leaving them alone in the nest, but strutting teasingly in their view on the roof or on the wall that surround our home’s courtyard. Last year, one chick effortlessly flew to join the parent on the roof, but the other remained in the nest, alone for days. Clearly, the remaining chick was terrified, walking around the rafters, occasionally flexing his wings, but returning to the nest until the following day. I found myself checking out the situation daily, hoping that I would not be left with more responsibility – after all, helping to build the nest is enough! But finally, off he went.

This entry announces the nesting pair’s arrival yesterday. Unfortunately, while the old nest survived the last two seasons, I had to take it down to clean the house and repaint that area. Luckily, they picked the same spot, so no broom redirection is necessary. But, enough writing, time has come to gather some twigs.