Sunday, December 28, 2008

Complexity, Paradox, and Hope

Deborah says it better than I could:

...what I am hoping to see on the 20th is a vision of our collective spiritual mind-scape in which it's clear that everyone wants the world to be a better place, and yet the only mental tools we collectively have to do that are tools of destruction, of hammering complexity into brittle certainties. And I am hoping that by putting the two halves together and winding up with a total complexity, we wind up seeing a door to allows us to collectively comprehend complexity in the future.

I might be disappointed, but I am going to hold out hope because I think that this is the most important thing we could possibly be doing right now. We aren't going to get anywhere if we can't inhabit the world as it actually is--in terms of its profound complexity and irreconcilability and connectedness. Every time we create a construct that allows us to think that the world is simple or understandable, we are actively breaking something--shutting off understanding of something else. Defining the parameters of our minds and refusing to let in more. This has real physical consequences outside ourselves. We can't keep breaking things, but at the same time all the tools we have are the tools these men offer: lenses that focus one true or beautiful or correct thing to the point of oversimplification. We all do this. We all have beautiful smashing tools that tell us not how the world actually is, but how we want the world to be. So that means that we are all at this really funny crossroads: we have to learn how to stop breaking and hammering by selectively breaking and hammering our way out of the habit.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cultural Sickness

This comment on the NYTimes editorial page today got more attention than the Krugman article it was attached to:
The underlying cause of the economic catastrophe is cultural, not just a few bad policies or corrupt officials: The USA now has an excessively adversarial, exploitative, cutthroat culture, undermining the civility, generosity, tolerance and respect that societies need to function. It's a dysfunctionality that devastates human capital and ruins good people.

I'm an old engineer now, but I still teach classes and mentor budding engineers. This cultural sickness hits them in 3 cruel ways: an unforgiving financial sector where loan-sharking is the norm, mass outsourcing of critical jobs, and a legal system so vicious that good people find all their decency and good intentions subverted in the interest of personal destruction. Recent grads have crippling debt, yet they're "the ones who did everything right"-- thrifty savers who studied hard, didn't gamble or waste their savings, and patiently built their careers.

But education and living expenses debt are severe-- trapping them at the start of their careers-- and if grads hit a bump in the road, like suffering crime, illness, an accident of some kind, they're ruined financially. Interest rates in the US would be usury anywhere else, and since unfortunate circumstances causing debt are ignored, many decent, hard-working, entrepreneurial graduates are devastated. This is worsened by mass outsourcing and corporate abuse of the H1-B program, depriving grads of jobs and experience.

On top of this misery, our legal system is so viciously adversarial- with greed and high-stakes money ruling the system- that decent people are ruined, as they see their character attacked. I've seen good friends, business partners, even spouses who once loved each other deeply, pushed to "go at it" and destroy each other for money-- rather than accepting the fallibility in all of us, and coming to a reasonable accommodation better for everyone, that respects how much people have invested in their careers.

In short, the US has become an inexplicably vicious, hostile place that undercuts its talented people, denigrates achievement, and has lost touch with the basic importance of mutual respect.
There. I find I haven't a thing to add.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Investment Advice for Dummies

Unlike many other commenters, I feel no urge to excoriate Alexandra Penney for having once been wealthy:

When I hung up with my friend, I turned on the TV and began to scour Google for news until the message became nauseatingly clear: Forty years of savings—the money I’d counted on to take me comfortably through the next 30 years—had likely evaporated in Madoff’s scheme.

THAT MOTHERFUCKER!! The soufflé fell.

I do wonder, however--what was she thinking, to invest forty years of savings with one motherfucker? Why would anyone do that?

Once you are making more than your basic expenses, you invest in highly diversified index mutual funds. Socially and environmentally responsible ones. That way, the only way you're entirely bankrupt is if Western Civilization permanently collapses. Which, at the moment, is a distinct possibility.

So you also invest in real estate (income property, not just Second Homes, or first ones), gold, and bonds. You have a chunk of money in a money market account. You have an emergency savings account in an unpretentious mom & pop savings bank. You have a couple of friends in foreign countries.

This is basic. But the failure to follow common-sense money managing principles seems to be part and parcel of what I've been ranting about all day--that too many people submit entirely to the Big Authority, instead of building a network of lateral connections. It seems that the only reason Alexandra Penney trusted Madoff was that he was 'exclusive' and well-known among the upper classes; she never met the man, never understood the nature of his business. And yet she handed him the power to wipe her out.

And again

Extreme wealth does not indicate merit, it indicates thievery:

As regulators and shareholders sift through the rubble of the financial crisis, questions are being asked about what role lavish bonuses played in the debacle. Scrutiny over pay is intensifying as banks like Merrill prepare to dole out bonuses even after they have had to be propped up with billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. While bonuses are expected to be half of what they were a year ago, some bankers could still collect millions of dollars.

Critics say bonuses never should have been so big in the first place, because they were based on ephemeral earnings. These people contend that Wall Street’s pay structure, in which bonuses are based on short-term profits, encouraged employees to act like gamblers at a casino — and let them collect their winnings while the roulette wheel was still spinning.
Does anybody seriously think that these people earned their money, in any system of accounting that is tethered to the physical world in any way? Why, then, do we continue to behave as though people with large incomes deserve every penny they have, and that people with small incomes deserve to go without healthcare, decent education, transportation, etc.?

From the top down

As if there were any doubt:
Most Americans have long known that the horrors of Abu Ghraib were not the work of a few low-ranking sociopaths. All but President Bush’s most unquestioning supporters recognized the chain of unprincipled decisions that led to the abuse, torture and death in prisons run by the American military and intelligence services.

Now, a bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee has made what amounts to a strong case for bringing criminal charges against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; his legal counsel, William J. Haynes; and potentially other top officials, including the former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.
Yes, and what about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney?

This is not a joke. It is incredible to me, how many Americans seem unable to free themselves of knee-jerk deference to authority, sufficiently to hold the President and Vice-President accountable for war crimes. These men aren't gods. They are human beings who have knowingly committed unbelieveably evil actions, and have given orders for untold other people to commit those same evil actions.

Our country throws poor people in jail for possessing a few ounces of pot. It throws them in jail for street fighting and petty theft. The law is not an equalizing force, it is a controlling one. Its purpose is to control the underclass, while the upper class gets away with robbery on the scale of billions, murder on the scale of hundreds of thousands, and systemic torture.

We accept this state of affairs because we're trained to it. We accept the canard that 'the government is keeping us safe' because it is too terrifying to wonder what is keeping us safe from the government. Unconsciously, we believe that keeping our heads down, going along with the lies, will keep the finger of brutality pointed elsewhere.

It won't. As long as we keep silent about this, we are complicit.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lovely Interlude

I met the girls of Ember in Mexico in 2002, and their music is as gorgeous as ever. Their CDs would make great stocking stuffers, hint, hint.

Fundamentalism and Denial

Andrew Sullivan sums up the Bush psyche fairly accurately, I think:

With this president, it is actually hard to know for sure whether he is capable of understanding what he did. I have no doubt that Cheney and Rumsfeld understood very well that they were crossing a legal and moral Rubicon; they knew they were authorizing war crimes and made every effort to give themselves phony legal cover and a theory of dictatorial presidential power that would have made King George III blush.

With Bush, however, his levels of denial are so strong he may simply be unable to accept that he has committed an absolute moral evil.

This Christianist president has a hard time with actual Christianity. He is of the fundamentalist psyche that holds that since he is on the side of the angels, he cannot do evil. And so even when presented with indisputable evidence of his own acts, his own memos, his own staff's decisions, he cannot own the consequences. He asked for memos from apparatchiks saying it wasn't torture, as if this guaranteed it wasn't torture. He reacted to the tangible consequences of his own decisions as if someone else had been president, or someone else's signature was on those memos, or someone else's vice-president had publicly embraced torture as a "no-brainer."

There are many times in my life when I have had infinite patience with fundamentalists--people with rigid, absolutist moral philosophies, who freely discuss angels and demons and the cosmic struggle against evil. On some level I both understand where they're coming from, and perceive a great deal of metaphorical truth in their reasoning.

The problem is, THEY don't see it as a metaphor. And in their literalistic, black-and-white struggle against evil, they are far more likely to project the evil in their own psyches outside themselves, and use their rigidity as an excuse to bully, torture, attack, harass, mock and oppress people who do not see things their way. This is not 'fighting evil', it's a transparent and contemptible attempt to avoid the very self-examination that is the core of all true spiritual growth.

In a way, I can kind of get inside Bush's head. I think he believes that someone else actually was President. I think he thinks that he was following spiritual guidance in doing what he did. I think he saw the machinations of Rove, his privileges of birth, his innate charisma, all as the hand of God directing him to become President and carry out an evangelical crusade against the evils of the world. And I think that on some level, it actually was spiritual guidance.

But the one thing I've discovered about spiritual guidance is that the lessons it teaches you are never the ones you thought you were learning. Bush didn't stamp out evil in Iraq; he didn't stamp it out anywhere. He may or may not have learned a few things about unintended consequences, listening to others, personal responsibility, and perceiving the character (or lack thereof) in one's intimate advisors. I've said before that I think Bush is co-dependent on an international level, and I stand by this assessment.

Spiritually speaking, however, he is a child, and the people around him are bullies. A Sullivan reader sums it up:

...their faiths themselves are defined by the people they exclude: the unbelievers, the unsaved (or let's be blunt: the "damned"), the always-demonized Other: without that division, that exclusion, their entire theology, indeed their entire worldview, collapses: a theology of inclusion is anathema to them, just as a politics, a sociology or even a science of inclusion (evolution) is anathema.

And why? Because despite their fine words, and their closely-guarded self-images, the actual and real ruling principle of their lives and their theology is fear, not love.

Everything flows from that original orientation, that original choice (because it is, finally, a choice). For them, to be inclusive is to expose themselves to what they fear; and what they fear most is summarized in their mythology of hell and eternal damnation: an eternal torture of body, mind, soul and spirit administered by an angry, vengeful, psychopathic god. It is all pure projection.

And irony of ironies, it is precisely the opposite of the message the Christian Savior tried to bring: that salvation is found only through love, through inclusion, through openness of mind and heart and spirit, through, ultimately, trust -- that this world, with all its difficulties and pain and imperfections, built through evolution, and including endless Others, is as it should be, as it was intended to be.

But that leap, from fear to trust, from fear to love, from fear to inclusion, is not an easy one, either for the individual or for a society. No evolutionary leap ever is -- and that is precisely what the leap from fear to love is: an evolutionary leap; evolution in action, evolution at the cognitive, emotional and spiritual levels.
Tangentially, this same Sullivan reader references a This American Life episode which I also listened to, and which I highly recommend, about an evangelical pastor who committed the ultimate heresy--he stopped believing in hell.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Okay, I'm angry.

BAGHDAD — An unpublished 513-page federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then molded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure.

The history, the first official account of its kind, is circulating in draft form here and in Washington among a tight circle of technical reviewers, policy experts and senior officials. It also concludes that when the reconstruction began to lag — particularly in the critical area of rebuilding the Iraqi police and army — the Pentagon simply put out inflated measures of progress to cover up the failures.
Translation: The Bush administration wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives, and told blatant lies to cover their incompetence, stupidity, and ignorance, quite possibly destroying this country as well as the country of Iraq in the process.

You people--you know who you are--voted for George W. Bush, TWICE. You people--you know who you are--cling to the belief that Sarah Palin is a much-maligned, abused innocent who made a valid Vice-Presidential candidate, despite the fact that she is even more ignorant, even more jingoistic, dogmatic and demonstrably incompetent than George W. Bush, and a proven pathological liar as well.

Have. You. No. Shame.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Compassion and Vitriol

Now, tell me. Which of these two people deserves an outpouring of compassionate empathy, and which deserves to be mercilessly excoriated for narcissism, selfishness, and general asshole-hood?
I have been to 11 schools in different parts of the world and there must be thousands of people I could, if I wished to, call my classmates. I was never sad when leaving and I never had trouble making friends; I blended in just fine with whatever crowd there was to blend in with. My trick was that I never missed friends and relatives whom I left behind. The moment I set foot in a new country, even the moment I set foot in a plane that was to take me away, the friends I made in the country I left stopped existing. I have never written a letter or an e-mail or a Christmas card to anyone, never called, never tried to catch up with people with whom I used to hang out. If I got letters I never replied.
I didn't intend to be celibate for the rest of my life. I just wanted to get some therapy, wanted to understand why I kept choosing men who were smart and funny but critical, sarcastic and merciless like my father. I figured I'd give it a go again later, when I felt stronger, more confident. In a couple of years, say. But here I am -- 55 years old, a spinster long past my sell-by date, no kids -- and I haven't had sex in a decade and a half.

It's my own fault, I know. I'm picky. Casual sex doesn't do it for me. (I've always thought I had to be in love in order to make love.) I regard men with ambivalence, with alternate longing and fear. I've grown accustomed to being alone.

Can anyone explain to me why example #1 received dozens of gentle, forgiving responses, many of them with the heading 'Me Too,' while example #2 received seven hundred and thirty two comments, the majority of which were along the lines of 'Quit whining, you bitch'?

Because I am going to go out on a limb and state that candidate #1, regardless of Childhood Trauma, regardless of the human Need to Adapt, regardless of Coping Strategies, nevertheless still bears the moral responsibility for acting like a narcissistic user. In fact, this person IS a narcissistic user, whatever the reasons behind her behavior. I say this because she knowingly and habitually behaves in ways which hurt the people she claims to care about. Their unhappiness is less important to her than the discomfort she might incur in making the effort to change. And that is lame.

The second candidate obviously has Issues, as well. But while she may be losing out on life in protecting herself from its hurts, at least she's not out there actively harming others in the process. So what is the deal? Is this simply an example of vulnerability drawing attack?

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Genesis of Pretty Lady

Hello, everybody. This is Pretty Lady's author.

Those of you who have been around since the beginning have probably noticed a falling off of Pretty Lady's style and elán, lately. The truth is, I think she may have come to the end of her incarnation. At the very least, the tone of this blog will change. I could make this blog an archive and start a new one, but then I'd have to start my ad revenue programs from scratch, and I need that fifty bucks a month right now ;-). So Pretty Lady will integrate with the much more down-to-earth voice of her author, Stephanie Lee Jackson, and those of you who are enamoured with third-person singular and over-the-top affectation will have to go elsewhere.

Meanwhile, I owe you all a bit of an explanation.

Pretty Lady fell into my mind on New Years' Eve, 2006. I'd been thinking for awhile that if I'd been born in a different century, I might have been a courtesan; the more I considered the many absurd, colorful, raucous episodes of my past, the more I realized that with a slight change of context and tone, they'd be excellent raw material for a picaresque novel. Moreover, I'd been thinking about the power of the feminine. Women managed to obtain and wield power long before most of us had any political or economic status; what did that look like? Could my inner courtesan shed any light on the subject?

So, Pretty Lady arrived. Originally I conceived of her as wildly transgressive and politically incorrect, along the lines of a Camille Paglia--narcissistic, sexist, racist, trivial and vain. But the parameters I'd set soon began to take on a deeper dimension. The fact that she referred to all comers as 'dear' and 'darling' began to rub off; I soon found that the promiscuous affection she spewed everywhere was genuine. By definition, she did love everybody. And I found that affection is necessary before any communication occurs.

Then I discovered that although she had an unflappable level of self-esteem, based upon her unassailable 'prettyness,' she had no ego whatsoever. She greeted all attempts at personal attack with blithe acceptance, and undiminished affection for the would-be attacker. This proved to be incredibly disarming. It obviated a lot of unwinnable, pointless arguments, because when someone is defending an identity, they're unable to absorb any other perspective. Since I wasn't trying to change anyone's mind, and was operating without fear, I was as free to consider radically different perspectives as other people were to consider mine.

I think that a lot of what she wrote, particularly in the first year, was channelled. A force that I might call the Holy Spirit took hold of my mind, my history, my ideas and my fingers, and poured itself out without too much direction from me. Sometimes I look back at old posts and can't believe I wrote that; I rather think I didn't. The ideas are with me still, but the force that wrought their expression is beyond anything I consciously set out to achieve. This is also why I relentlessly stuck with the third person singular, despite the fact that it often seemed forced and annoying. Pretty Lady was written by me, she had my ideas, experiences and sometimes my face, but she wasn't me. She was both more than me, and nothing at all.

The process was an extraordinarily healing one for me. It allowed me to lay to rest a lot of ghosts from my past, and move forward without so much baggage. It allowed me to articulate a lot of things that bothered me about gender politics in particular--namely, that feminist cant is often used against women, by selfish and unscrupulous people who then claim the moral high ground for it. It allowed me to clarify the fact that the dividing line is not between 'left' and 'right,' liberal and conservative, feminist and anti-feminist, religious and secular; it's between egoism and basic decency. Any ideology can be used to beat people up, and just about any ideology can liberate them. So many of the quarrels we expend our energy on are smokescreens for fear, anguish and desperation.

It also allowed me to bridge the gap between my religious upbringing and my transpersonal perspective. For the last twenty years or so I have considered myself 'spiritual, but not religious.' The bigotry, rigidity and dogmatism of the Christian religion as it is practiced by millions today is something I can't swallow, even in the tempered Anglican version; yet I acknowledge that the best parts of Christianity have formed my outlook and dwell at the bedrock of my soul. Now I believe that dogmatic, rule-based morality is a necessary phase in the development of human moral reasoning. It provides the first solid step out of egoistic chaos, and the first intimation that other people are more than just objects to be used, attacked and defended against. We can't combat bigotry by attacking religion.

We can, however, do extensive damage control by defining and maintaining boundaries. A lot of harm would be avoided if we simply did our best to establish a clear, universal understanding that the rules of any religion apply to the voluntary adherents of that religion, not to random bystanders. Evangelism at its best is just rude; when it becomes political, it violates the tenets of spiritual equality on which all major religions are based. The only truly transformative discipline is self-discipline. It would be nice if religious institutions generally acknowledged that.

As most of you know, Joe and I are expecting a daughter in February. I find that pregnancy has sapped the vast majority of my creative energy; mothers and healthcare providers assure me that it will come back after the baby is born, but for the moment I have not had much inspiration to spare. That is, I think, as it should be. Narcissists make terrible mothers.

And the election perhaps marks a turning point as well. Something about the reality-denial, dogmatism, solipsism and incompetence of the Bush administration years seemed to call out for the creation of a whimisical mask self, if only as a way of whistling in the dark. Now that it looks like the adults are finally in charge, a lot of the exigency has gone out of the pose.

So I will still be here; I will still tell you what I think; I will still love you. I'll just be a bit more muted about it. Thank you for the three years of bliss! Let's have many more!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why Corporate Executives Are Stupid

For all of Stanley Bing's executive expertise, he can't see the forest for the trees:
What do you think the boys at the Big Three auto companies were thinking about when each took his own private jet to Washington to ask for help?..Are they stupid?
The answer to this question has been obvious to Pretty Lady, since about three weeks into her first temporary corporate secretarial job. The answer is that 'stupidity' is an entirely irrelevant concept, in the context of Corporate America. The behavior of corporate executives, managers, and employees cannot be analyzed with reference to intelligence, or lack thereof; it is simply more or less well-adapted to an entire structure which is rooted in the mechanics of animal dominance.

As Pretty Lady learned, partly from personal experience, and partly from the book 'Games Mother Never Taught You: Corporate Gamesmanship for Women,' the corporate universe is not based upon the laws of physics as we have come to understand them. It is entirely controlled by the laws of testosterone, which give rise to absurd displays of posturing, buffoonery, showmanship, aggression, control, spin, mendacity, and irrelevance.

When viewed in the light of these laws, taking three corporate jets to Washington in order to ask for a large sum of money makes perfect sense. One does not obtain things in corporate America by being competent, sensible, generous and humble; one obtains things by flashy displays of power. This system is sustained and abetted by the meek acquiescence of the non-powerful, who put their heads down and go along with it in order to survive.

(Whether or not this sheeplike complicity in institutional narcissism is voluntary or fully determined by circumstance is an open question; Pretty Lady is not qualified to state an opinion. She herself, being both non-belligerent and non-acquiescent by nature, opted to flee the system as much as possible. This has not spared her from the collective economic doom approaching us, but at least she's familiar with the exigencies of poverty.)

What seems clear to her is that our collective American persona of belligerence, entitlement, self-righteousness, exploitation, and herd mentality is finally reaping its consequences, and that there is no way we can escape it. As Peter Schiff so correctly points out, we have been living beyond our means for decades, feeding off the labor of others while providing little of value ourselves. There is no recourse. We're going to suffer.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Hey, just so you know, it is already too late.

it is. trust me on this. she just went to the bathroom, she's waiting in line for it, she's like second in line, so we have a few minutes, maybe more, but at least a few, so time's kinda of the essence here.

you've ruined the date, your first date, it's over. cause you ruined it.
Read the whole thing. Read it twice. Rarely is truth expressed so economically, and in such a deeply satisfying way.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Nadler Resolution to Stop Pre-Emptive Bush Pardons

Representative Jerrold Nadler has created a resolution to stop the Bush administration from pre-emptively pardoning members of its own administration for possible war crimes, including torture:

(1) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the granting of preemptive pardons by the President to senior officials of his administration for acts they may have taken in the course of their official duties is a dangerous abuse of the pardon power;

(2) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the President should not grant preemptive pardons to senior officials in his administration for acts they may have taken in the course of their official duties;

(3) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that James Madison was correct in his observation that "[i]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty";

(4) it is the sense of the House of Representatives that a special investigative commission, or a Select Committee be tasked with investigating possible illegal activities by senior officials of the administration of President George W. Bush, including, if necessary, any abuse of the President's pardon power; and

(5) the next Attorney General of the United States appoint an independent counsel to investigate, and, where appropriate, prosecute illegal acts by senior officials of the administration of President George W. Bush.

Please go here and urge your representative to support it. Thank you.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Well, isn't that just like a man

Pretty Lady is amused to note that the gay-marriage debate has not obviated that grand old patriarchal tradition--of the idealistic gentleman who eagerly sacrifices his loved ones on the altar of his ideals, whether they concur or no:
I am a 26 year old heterosexual, white male who is in the best relationship of my life. She is a 26 year old Egyptian woman. We're very happy and recently she met most of my family and extended family. They loved her as well. We even hope to marry someday. I am so grateful that I live in a country that would honor that bond. As you know, it wasn't too long ago that our relationship would not be recognized in many states. That being said, I've taken the stand that I do not want to join the institution of marriage until it is one that allows ALL loving couples to join.

As much as Pretty Lady honors this gentleman's sentiments, and agrees with him in principle, she has a few questions for his would-be fianceé. That is: does she want children? Anytime soon? Where is she living? Would she like to live in the United States? Would she like to work here? What does her family think about all this?

In other words, how long is her life going to remain in limbo, for the sake of an abstract principle that her actions have no influence over, one way or another?

Pretty Lady, as a recovering co-dependent, learned firsthand the hard way that forcing oneself to suffer until the entire world is happy only accomplishes one thing: it increases the aggregate suffering on the planet. It does not bring healing to the other sufferers; it does not create civil equality, liberty, or justice for all. It is merely extremely annoying.

Moreover, Pretty Lady is intimately familiar with the sort of unthinking chauvinism that induces idealistic, infatuated young men to address their favored ladies with that time-honored, romantic phrase, "You wait here while I take care of it."

Memo to all young ladies and gentleman: Any young lady who hangs around for more than five or ten minutes for this kind of twaddle is a fool. As free, equal, enlightened, capable women, we are no longer required to cool our heels while you fellows make everything perfect. Which is an excellent thing, because global perfection was never in your grasp to begin with. The best we can hope for is equal, enlightened, mutual pragmatism, on a small scale, wherever we can create it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

No Confidence in Mr. Paulson

If Henry Paulson's intention is to reassure the American people by publishing an editorial in the NYTimes today, he is not doing a very good job of it:

I have always said that the decline in the housing market is at the root of the economic downturn and our financial market stress. And the economy, as it slows further, threatens to prolong this decline, as well as the stress on our financial institutions and financial markets.

A troubled-asset purchase program, to be effective, would require a huge commitment of money. In mid-September, before economic conditions worsened, $700 billion in troubled asset purchases would have had a significant impact. But half of that sum, in a worse economy, simply isn’t enough firepower.
Pretty Lady is, of course, not an economist. But even she can see clearly that if the American economy is based solely upon real estate prices, the American economy is very ill indeed.

She once heard that the Rule of Thumb for housing is that a financially responsible person spends between ten and twenty-five percent of her income on rent or mortgage payments. This formula, she understands, ensures that a person has enough left over for groceries, transportation, health insurance, savings, clothing, education, entertainment, vacations, and other incidental expenses of life.

She thinks of this formula every now and then, and a thin, bitter smile flits across her face.

For the only time that Pretty Lady's income/housing expense ratio met this standard was...well, Pretty Lady's income/housing expense ratio has never met this standard, even when she was living in Mexico, because when she lived in Mexico she had virtually no income at all. The fact is, if Pretty Lady told you her average lifetime income/housing expense ratio, you would all stone her. You would cease to take her admonishments seriously ever again, because obviously such a fiscally irresponsible human being is not fit to be living indoors at all, let alone dispensing advice.

But the fact is, in the metropolitan areas where Pretty Lady has lived for the last twenty years, it is virtually impossible for a person who is not an investment banker to adhere to this formula, for the simple reason that wage/real estate price ratios are overwhelmingly real-estate heavy. Real estate, in short, is overinflated as though it were the basis of an economy wherein people are making far more money from real estate speculation than from actual work.

This is not, and never has been, a healthy or sustainable state of affairs.

In Pretty Lady's non-economist view, it is about time that real estate prices came down. Real estate prices are killing her, as well as nearly every other person she knows who works an actual, physical, productive job. If someone's gambling income collapses because he bet that real estate prices would continue to skyrocket forever and ever amen, and leveraged those bets at a ratio of thirty to one, that person should by rights be stripped of all his assets and given a job repairing pot holes, by hand, with a shovel and a wheelbarrow full of concrete. He may start either on Canal Street, or that section of the FDR which nearly took out her suspension yesterday evening.

Injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into the financial system with the goal of keeping real-estate prices inflated, however, strikes her as the worst sort of stupidity, if not downright malignant robbery. Provide credit to productive businesses, certainly. Extend unemployment insurance for honest workers who are out of a job; provide healthcare, education, and investment in green energy. Fertilize the roots of our economy wherever there is something actually growing. But for God's sake, quit pumping the real estate balloon. Are you mad, Mr. Paulson? Are you a fool? Or are you simply evil???

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why Pretty Lady Is Not A Computer Scientist

Pretty Lady cannot answer for Women in General, of course. But her personal answer to the question posed by today's NYTimes is very simple: Because she does not wish to be a computer scientist.

She established this lack of interest in computer science at the age of fifteen, when Daddy brought home a state-of-the-art Apple and allowed her to Roam Free. She fearlessly approached the machine and wrote a simple program which made a small green ball bounce back and forth across the screen; then she altered this program to make the ball bounce around and around the screen. Then she was done.

Her primary objection to the science of computer programming was its literal, inane, tedious linearity. Computers are not intuitive. They are not holistic. They require everything to be Spelled Out in a most tiresomely redundant manner. Programming is rather like teaching autistic children, except without any of the poetry, pathos, variety, or endearing personality quirks. One takes a Step in a certain direction; then one is required to enumerate every single infinitesimal obvious point from origin to conclusion, before embarking upon another linear, obvious Step. It is boring beyond belief.

Simply, Pretty Lady found that the exercise of programming only required the services of roughly two percent of her brain capacity; the rest of her mind, meanwhile, nearly exploded with restlessness and understimulation. Activities which adequately engage her particular mind tend to be multi-textured, multi-leveled, multi-sensory, multi-functional, and varied. Computer programming, in contrast, reminds her of Spalding Gray's description of a day without cocktail hour: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA, AAAAAAAAAAAAAA, AAAAAAAAAAAA__Bed."

It should be made exceptionally clear that Pretty Lady was not in any way discouraged from becoming a computer scientist, either by Family, Academia, Society, or overwhelming fear of becoming a psychosexual leper. She was not plagued by Insecurity or Self-Doubt. She had no lingering suspicions that she was not intellectually up to the task. The sole reason that she eliminated computer science from her roster of potential careers was her strong personal disinclination to pursue it.

Pretty Lady does not wish to beat a dead horse, but after several decades of living on the planet as an intelligent woman, and from intimate acquaintance with many hundreds of other intelligent women, she more than suspects that there are more intelligent women who share her aversion to the dictates of computer science than those who embrace it. She knows far, far greater numbers of men who do not mind being cloistered in a tiny cubicle for twelve to sixteen hours per day, pursuing a single arcane logical trajectory, than women who would choose to endure this type of intellectual, aesthetic and relational constriction.

Thus, the implications of the title of the above-linked NYTimes article rather offend her. Women are not necessarily being driven from computer science, like so many cattle. There is an even chance that we are voluntarily choosing to avoid it, for the very good reason that we would much rather do just about anything else.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Moved by God

Pretty Lady wishes to offer her sincere thanks and congratulations to the leaders of the Mormon church, as well as to all the others who have made this day possible. They have listened to the urgings of a wise and benevolent God, and in doing so they have sparked a peaceful nationwide movement to uphold love, decency, commitment, and equal rights for all Americans.

For freedom can never be bestowed; it can only be claimed. And the surest path to claiming one's freedom lies in recognizing, resisting and overcoming the obstacles placed in the way.


Courage Campaign on-line petition

Petition to strip the Mormon church of tax-exempt status

Box Turtle Bulletin

Ed Winkleman: Backlash Whiplash
"This country will improve enormously when we impress upon its self-appointed moral agents that the burdens of belief fall to the believers, not upon the unbelievers. Do you see the Jews trying to criminalize pork? Then what business do the Mormons, Catholics, or anyone else have regarding gay marriage? If your credo damns homosexuality, have the decency to let everybody who doesn't arrange their lives according to literal readings of third-hand translations of Bronze Age literature make their own contractual arrangements."


Friday, November 14, 2008

Even More Genuinely Shocked

Pretty Lady is sorry to say that her respect for Conor Friedersdorf has just plummeted:

Larison writes:

Most Americans cannot conceive of executive branch officials, much less the President himself, having to answer for their crimes, which is one of the reasons why so many members of different administrations, but particularly the current one, have held the law in such contempt–because they know they will not have to answer, much less pay, for what they have done.
I find it hard to conceive of throwing Dick Cheney in jail for breaking the law. But I think there is a high-likelihood that a fair investigation would find him guilty of illegal acts, and if that happens I’ll be the first to advocate his prosecution and imprisonment, fully understanding that it’ll be a dark day for the United States...
Why, Conor? Why is this so hard? Pretty Lady finds it immensely easy to conceive of throwing Dick Cheney in jail. She confesses that she has repeatedly visualized the sight of Dick Cheney in handcuffs--doing the perp walk in front of the media, his humorless lizard face etched in its permanent scowl--with great satisfaction, if not a great deal of hope that this will ever come to pass.

What is it about 'all men are created equal' that Americans, after having more than two centuries to get used to the phrase, still fail to apprehend? That if an individual knowingly and willingly breaks the law, shattering many thousands of lives, spreading misery and desolation far and wide, that individual deserves to be held accountable for his actions? No matter what titular label has been temporarily attached to his corporeal person?

It will not, in any way, be a dark day for the United States if Dick Cheney is arrested, tried, and thrown in jail for life. It will be the dawning of a day when the United States actually attempts to live up to its founding precepts. Hmph.