U.S. Government’s FICO Score

September 29, 2009 at 4:55 pm (By Randy)

uscreditscore2

The website Loans and Credit (All About Finance, Without the Fluff!)  calculated the U.S. government’s theoretical credit score. Click on the link for a more readable image. They’ve published some other interesting graphics as well as articles worth perusing.

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Repent, or Repentance Will Find You

September 29, 2009 at 11:01 am (By Maxwell James)

Which is to say: I think it’s pretty sweet that Roman Polanski was arrested during Yom Kippur.

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A Guest Post by Ron, a.k.a. @KngFish

September 27, 2009 at 9:43 pm (By Ron)

(Hostess’s note:  Soon as Ron gets his new computer, he’ll join the crew and will be posting directly.)

______________________________________

And…now it’s October?

So in early September, I thought I had a bit of flu.  I did not.  I also thought I had some kinda muscle cramps because at one point I couldn’t hold up my own weight and slumped on to the kitchen floor.  That should have been a clue, but hey, I’m getting’ old and I’m fat, so I thought it came with the territory.  It did not.  So when I couldn’t get off the bed, I decided to call 911 and let the ambulance take me away.  What I had was Legionnaire’s disease, and my kidneys were in the process of shutting down.

Because I’m here writing this, you can take a guess that that did not happen.  But, for the first time in my life at 51, I’ve spent most of the last month in a hospital room, much of the time losing fluids like crazy.  The disease makes you lose those cells which provide oxygen to the muscles (hence the weakness) in pretty big numbers in an attempt to overwhelm the kidneys which would normally process them, so ‘weak as a kitten’ was the norm for me.  It took quite some time to get those cells out of my system, and I’ve been getting 7-8 liters of fluid a night through an IV to jump start the kidneys and get them working again.  I think at the moment they are working fairly well, but follow up visits to my docs will let me know for sure.

How did I get through it?  It was hard for me at first, as I have had no hospital experience.  But I got into the technical descriptions of what was occurring to me, and I bugged the docs with more questions because I wanted to know.  Hell, I’d have run my own lab tests if they had let me.  At one point, in a complex explanation, one of my docs said “We’re all just bunches of chemicals”, and I oddly found that reassuring.  Earlier this week, they let me out, because they felt I could keep up with the demands of my kidneys just through drinking.  So far so good.

But the reactions of people…that’s been something I’ve not been really ready for.  For most of my life, those human interactions of warmth and support have not been in great abundance.  ‘Family’ has been an abstract term to me, not a source of solace.  But through this crisis, I feel more 3 dimensional, more than a bunch of chemicals…I can’t even describe it, it’s more a collection of sounds and a set of anchors to a world that exists past a hospital bed.  If I had the right partner, I’d be channeling Astaire and dancing, putting it on film, and sharing it all with you.

And there are more of you than I thought possible, starting with the owner of this blog right here.  Well, to be really fair, I must start with my friend Miki, who has been my fighter, my support, my rock in more ways than I can count.  No matter how hard I try to write something to say how much I love and care for her as my friend (and the wacky children, too!) I get so emotional that words seem slow and ham-fisted in articulating that love.  And Amba, many of the Althouse Commentariat, who only know me through comments and tweets, and friends….every single one of you is a mensch.  I would name names, but some I think wish to be in the background.  No matter, I know who you are and I give you as much thanks and love as I can.

For all of my flaws as a person, something I see in myself now that I’m very happy with is the desire to return the favor to each and every person among you.  It’s amazing that so much love and support has come from people whom I’ve never met, and may never meet, just due to financial constraints.  Thanks, cubed to all of you.

Ron, of Fluffy Stuffin’

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Sarkozy Speaks

September 26, 2009 at 3:20 pm (By Rodjean)

From the UN remarks by the President of France:

“We say: reductions must be made. And President Obama has even said, “I dream of a world without [nuclear weapons].” Yet before our very eyes, two countries are currently doing the exact opposite. Since 2005, Iran has violated five Security Council resolutions. Since 2005, Secretary-General, the international community has called on Iran to engage in dialogue. An offer of dialogue was made in 2005, an offer of dialogue was made in 2006, an offer of dialogue was made in 2007, an offer of dialogue was made in 2008, and another one was made in 2009. President Obama, I support the Americans’ outstretched hand. But what did the international community gain from these offers of dialogue? Nothing. More enriched uranium, more centrifuges, and on top of that, a statement by Iranian leaders proposing to wipe a UN member State off the map.”

In my opinion, wherever you are on the political spectrum, if you are serious about avoiding a nuclear exchange which destroys Israel and half the Middle East, Iran must be stopped. It is a priority higher than nation building in Iraq or Afghanistan. Any ideas?

Added:  If I’m going to suggest turning our military against another foreign power, I suppose I should at least identify myself  –  Rod

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Tough Love for America from a Fan and Critic

September 26, 2009 at 2:02 pm (By Amba)

It isn’t likely that a lot of red-blooded Americans will graciously accept criticism from someone named Kishore Mahbubani. And you can accuse him here and there of succumbing to a “groupthink” of his own — on the Palestinians, for instance, or on climate change.  These points of valid disagreement will cause some minds to close and throw out his entire argument.  But that would be a pity, because there’s a baby in that there bathwater.  Just a taste:

When Americans are asked to identify what makes them proudest of their society, they inevitably point to its democratic character. And there can be no doubt that America has the most successful democracy in the world. Yet it may also have some of the most corrupt governance in the world. The reason more Americans are not aware of this is that most of the corruption is ­legal. [Quoting Obama, ironically:] ““These days, almost every congressional district is drawn by the ruling party with ­computer-­driven precision to ensure that a clear majority of Democrats or Republicans reside within its borders. Indeed, it’s not a stretch to say that most voters no longer choose their representatives; instead, representatives choose their voters.”

The net effect of this corruption is that American governmental institutions and processes are now designed to protect special interests rather than public interests. As the financial crisis has revealed with startling clarity, regulatory agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission have been captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate.

*   *   *

Americans believe [that on 9/11] they were innocent victims of an evil attack by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. And there can be no doubt that the victims of 9/11 were innocent. Yet Americans tend to forget the fact that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were essentially created by U.S. policies. In short, a force launched by the United States came back to bite ­it.During the Cold War, the United States was looking for a powerful weapon to destabilize the Soviet Union. It found it when it created a ­pan-­Islamic force of mujahideen fighters, drawn from countries as diverse as Algeria and Indonesia, to roll back the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan after 1979. For a time, American interests and the interests of the Islamic world converged, and the fighters drove the Soviets out and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the same time, however, America also awakened the sleeping dragon of Islamic ­solidarity.

Yet when the Cold War end­ed, America thoughtlessly disengaged from Af­ghan­istan and the powerful Islamic forces it had supported there.

*     *     *

Looking back at the origins of the current financial crisis, it is amazing that American society accepted the incredible assumptions of economic gurus such as Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin that unregulated financial markets would naturally deliver economic growth and serve the public good [and that] the financial players would regulate ­themselves.This is manifest nonsense. The goal of these financial professionals was always to enhance their personal wealth, not to serve the public interest. So why was Greenspan’s nonsense accepted by American society? The simple and amazing answer is that most Americans assumed that their country has a rich and vibrant “marketplace of ideas” in which all ideas are challenged. [... T]he belief that American society allows every idea to be challenged has led Americans to assume that every idea is challenged. They have failed to notice when their minds have been enveloped in groupthink.

*     *     *

[M]any of those who have grown wealthy in the past few decades have added little of real economic value to society. Instead, they have created “financial weapons of mass destruction,” and now they continue to expect rich bonuses even after they delivered staggering losses. Their behavior demonstrates a remarkable decline of American values and, more important, the deterioration of the implicit social contract between the wealthy and the rest of society.

*     *     *

At the moment of their country’s greatest economic vulnerability in many decades, few Americans dare to speak the truth and say that the United States cannot retreat from globalization. Both the American people and the world would be worse off. However, as globalization and global capitalism create new forces of “creative destruction,” America will have to restructure its economy and society in order to compete. It will need to confront its enormously wasteful and inefficient health care policies and the deteriorating standards of its public education system. It must finally confront its economic failures as well, and stop rewarding them. If General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford cannot compete, it will be futile to protect them. They, too, have failed because they could not conceive of ­failure.

Finally, that is the whole point of Mahbubani’s article in the Wilson Quarterly:  “failure occurs when you do not conceive of ­failure.”  And:

America, I wrote in 2005 in Beyond the Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust Between America and the World, “has done more good for the rest of the world than any other society.” If the United States fails, the world will suffer ­too.

ADDENDUM: Another blog commenter on this article highlights a part of it that I didn’t:  our broad tendency to “demonize taxes” yet continue to expect entitlements, which forces us into deficit and debt.  This commentator, Fr. Ted, notes acerbically that “Entitlement thinking is found not just in those favoring a welfare state” — something I have oft thought but ne’er so concisely expressed.

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Rambling Around New England

September 26, 2009 at 12:11 pm (By Randy)

New England2

Beginning Wednesday, I’ll be wandering around New England with my mom for three weeks. We have a tentative itinerary, most of it gleaned from AAA books or The Rough Guide to New England.

Suggestions on what to do, or more importantly, what to avoid if it is on our list, are most welcome. (Please keep in mind that one of us is 75, walks with a cane, and does not do boats.)

I hope to  blog about our experiences at the end of each day, á la Nina Camic, but will probably end up posting about as often when we traveled to England last year. ;-)

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Hospice Produces a Miracle.

September 26, 2009 at 1:41 am (By Amba)

One of the services Duke Hospice provides is a volunteer who will come and visit with the patient at a regular time once a week so the caregiver can go out for a couple of hours.  Volunteers can of course provide no care (beyond, say, bringing the person a glass of water), but they provide companionship for one and a bit of short-range respite for the other, with a cellphone connection available in case a need arises during that time that is out of the volunteer’s bailiwick.

Because I was on deadline when the initial appointment was made by the volunteer coordinator, who was going to come with the volunteer on a first get-acquainted visit, I had no clue when or whether they were coming.  And I wondered whom they would match up with J.  I imagined a kindhearted local to whom he would be quite exotic.  Whether the volunteer would be able to engage J and be comfortable with him was going to be an unpredictable matter of personality; that they might have much in common seemed unlikely.  (Did I mention that when I was in Chicago I visited the senior residence we’re on the waiting list for, and it was full of Russians?!  It seems one of them worked on the construction crew and got himself and a bunch of his friends onto the very first list.  There are signs in Russian in the elevators!  I figured J would be in clover with that — it isn’t really so strange that he loves Russians, as long as they aren’t shooting at him — but we must still be at least two years down the list; and even our close friends there are now urging us to stay here if we can stay in the hospice program.)  The volunteer coordinator had mentioned that they were considering a volunteer named Axel, and that gave me a faint hope that he might be able to speak German with J, who has a young cousin in Cologne named Axel.

The knock on the door today caught me completely unprepared.  In came a tiny little woman and a tall, lanky man with keen eyes and gray hair.  This was Axel, and within 30 seconds I had discovered that he does indeed speak German, but is not German, but Swedish.

Long story short, Axel (while obviously in great shape) is about to turn 80; J is 81.  Axel is married to a woman 18 years younger (the exact age difference between J and me) who was born in Illinois (albeit on a large farm).  Axel is an engineer who has lived in many countries, speaks several languages, and has four children scattered around the United States and 14 grandchildren scattered all around the world.  He has written a book about his life for them, which he will exchange for J’s book on his next visit.  He is intellectually curious, blunt, brave, and warm.  (He says most Americans call him “Alex,” but he knows about both the rare Americans who share his name:  Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop character Axel Foley, and Axl Rose.  How many 80-year-olds can name Axl Rose?)  He lives ten minutes away.

In other words, they could be friends. Hell, for that matter, maybe his wife and I could be friends.

The coincidences were so uncanny that it kinda made you feel taken care of on several levels, visible and invisible.

After they left the “bath ladies” came and duded J up and dressed him, leaving him on the bed at my request so he’d be rested to go to the dojo.  When the time came to go, all I had to do was get him up and put him in the wheelchair with the Hoyer lift, instead of an hour and a half’s worth of everything.

Just amazing.

(Our nurse who’d ordered up the air mattress, meanwhile, wasn’t nearly as horrified by the cat holes as I was — although she did say it was a first in her experience.  Really?  Don’t everybody’s cats sleep in their bed??)

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A Voice of Sanity in the Wilderness

September 24, 2009 at 10:52 am (By Amba) (, , )

Paul Volcker has always stood out, not only because he’s so tall, but because he is so disinterested, in the original meaning of the word.  He has never seemed a political animal, and therefore his mind rings like a good bell in the murk.

Evidently he’s no longer considered a playa, and so his testimony this morning in front of the House Financial Services Committee was carried only on the House website, with terrible sound.  None of the cable networks carried it, excerpted it, or even mentioned it, according to Icepick, who was looking for it.  People are having much too good a time perpetuating their delusions and addictions.

However, Calculated Risk printed some excerpts, and linked to Volcker’s whole prepared statement (PDF).  Just a taste:

Now the financial pressures have eased and there are signs of renewed economic growth. There are some on “Wall Street” who would like to return to ”business as usual”.   After all, for a time, and for some that system was enormously remunerative. However, it placed at risk not only the American economy, but also large parts of the world economy. [...]

However well justified in terms of dealing with the extreme threats to the financial system in the midst of crisis, the emergency actions of the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, and ultimately the Congress to protect the viability of particular institutions – their bond holders and to some extent even their stockholders – have inevitably left an indelible mark on attitudes and behavior patterns of market participants. [...]

Will not the pattern of protection for the largest banks and their holding companies tend to encourage greater risk-taking, including active participation in volatile capital markets, especially when compensation practices so greatly reward short-term success? [...]

The obvious danger is that with the passage of time, risk-taking will be encouraged and efforts at prudential restraint will be resisted. Ultimately, the possibility of further crises – even greater crises – will increase.

Don’t just listen to the content, listen to the tone:  deliberate, thoughtful, unexaggerating, unhysterical.  You won’t hear its like again anytime soon, possibly not in your lifetime, possibly not in the rest of our civilization’s life cycle as it it founders and is rent by the eager teeth of barbarism within and without.  This is an aspect of civilization that is on its way out.

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Report from the Home Front

September 24, 2009 at 3:11 am (By Amba)

So, we’ve had one week of the benign home invasion called hospice.

When pitched into a new space I tend to clam up.  It’s as if there’s been a Cubist rejuggling of the anatomy and I can’t find my mouth.  Maybe it’s where my left elbow used to be?  Give me some time, my voice will find a new way out.

Probably it’s only a flurry at the beginning.  It’s like being rushed by a sorority, a special sorority for the moribund.  (A morority? Being rushed by an eternity?)  For a while, we had visits and phone calls every day:  a nurse, a social worker, a chaplain, certified nurse assistants, deliveries of free medication.  I was dazed.

It was wonderful, wonderful to have help and to have the isolation breached and the need acknowledged, to have a tough, cheerful nurse to frankly discuss J’s swollen ankles and occasionally labored breathing with, and two strong ladies to wash and turn him three times a week — I walk right out of the room!  If he has a complaint he can take it up with them!  I had thought I might collapse with deferred exhaustion; instead, I had a ferocious surge of energy.  You’ve never seen anyone rejoin the human race so fast.  My organism seems to have become wonderfully opportunistic.  Give me an inch and I’ll take Manhattan.  (I wish.) I’m pleased to discover how much resilience is left, but a little bit afraid that the speed of my rebound makes it look as if I didn’t need the help as much as I did.

Of course, the price of the help has been a tacit and awkward redefinition of J as a (broadly speaking) terminal patient, a category that he (who has been down for the count so many times) doesn’t fit into too well.  He’s more like a cat on his eighth life, a recidivist of it-ain’t-over-till-it’s-over.  Part of being in hospice is accepting and acknowledging, almost catechistically, that this is end-of-life care.  Otherwise the expense of caring for you so intensively couldn’t be justified, and it’s why I suspect we’ll eventually get kicked off (at least for a while).  When you enter any system, there are necessarily procedures and parameters and categories and definitions that have to be somewhat prêt-à-porter, though in the case of hospice it is a generous garment and alterations are included.  It’s not a Procrustean deathbed.  But it is not quite the same as sewing or growing your own death in your own sweet time.

I hasten to add that it’s worth it.  What’s hard to know is how much to resist playing the roles.  Resist too much and not only are you officially in denial, but worse, your performance may convince others that you’re just fine — or too proud a jackass to admit you’re not.  Resist too little and you hand over your treasured, ornery uniqueness and independence.  There’ve been times this week when I found myself at loose ends, just waiting around for someone to come take care of us — not an option before.  The ladies were coming to wash J, change the bed, and get him up, so I didn’t.  Or I couldn’t wait for them to so I did, thus rendering their work semi-superfluous.  It’s a puzzlement.

Today everything fell apart in a good way.  First of all, the volunteers who had pledged to come and meet us — being in mid-deadline I didn’t write it down, so I wasn’t sure if it was Friday or yesterday — never showed and never called.  Then today a deliveryman called up and said he was on his way over with a special, constantly changing, bedsore-preventive air mattress and pump that the nurse had ordered.  I hadn’t known it was coming so fast and hadn’t had time to think about it or prepare, to buy mattress covers, etc.  He was arriving in half an hour.  The bath ladies were supposed to come, but I hadn’t heard from them and didn’t know when.  The deliveryman was primed to explain and install the mattress.  I had no choice but to go into action and get J washed and dressed, as in days of yore (and, of course, 4 days a week still).  He was having a good day; he was able to stand up from the edge of the bed, leaning on the walker and with a mighty boost from me kneeling on the bed behind him, long enough to get his pants pulled up.  (Ow!  This is how I got rotator cuff tendinitis in the first place.) By that time the deliveryman had arrived, and I was pleasantly aware of having someone to display heroics for.

Once he was up there was still no sign of the wash ladies.  The honeymoon appeared to be over — and some part of me was going, “This is more like it.”  I called Duke Hospice and left them a message that they didn’t have to come today.  Then we ate a lot of fish eggs.  Then he wanted to rest before going to the swimming pool, so I covered the air mattress with a blanket to protect it from the cats, who were showing a worrisome interest in it, and Hoyer-lifted him back onto the bed.  We both fell asleep.  I woke to a gentle, steady hissing sound.  Sure enough:  the cats had poked a couple of holes in the fancy therapeutic air mattress and were now riveted by the sound of air escaping.  I felt like an idiot — I should have known this was inevitable and sent the damn thing away, or told the deliveryman to stash it in the back room till I could figure out a way to protect it.  Now we’d probably be liable for it.  All the while, I was being peppered with last-minute copyediting questions and PDFs of nearly-final articles to proofread for work.

I got enough of that done so we could go to the pool, and then we came back and had supper, just the two of us.  J tried to put sour cream on his ice cream.  It was the first day that’s felt normal to me since hospice began.

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Geodetic Joke

September 23, 2009 at 11:49 pm (By Randy)

(Via Within the Crainium)

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