Monday, May 31, 2010

A Repeat Performance

Since I'm still vacationing on the right coast, I'm taking the easy way out and reprising last year's Memorial Day post.  Happy Three Day Weekend!!
*****

I used to march in the Memorial Day parade. I was dressed in my Brownie uniform, and then in my Girl Scout uniform - replete with those hated anklets. I wore them because they said you couldn't march without them and marching was too cool to pass up, but the shame............

All the school bands marched too, and Benjamin Road provided the materials and the labor to make the capes the high school kids wore. There must have been a military presence there, but I didn't pay enough attention to notice. I was marching and I knew that, all over America, other kids were being Americans and marching, too. It was great.

In Marin, the Memorial Day parade was always good for a controversy or two. Or three. Should the anti-war protesters walk alphabetically in the main march, or have their own march, or walk 50 yards behind the official march? I especially liked this discussion: Should weaponry be allowed? That was fairly disingenuous even for Marin.

There were bands at this parade, too, and with Bobby Weir as the Grand Marshal you know the music was worth hearing, especially at the picnic in the park afterwards. Not exactly your typical VFW-sponsored event, but no one was complaining. It was Memorial Day; there had to be a parade.

I've got the flag G'ma bought us for a housewarming present, which replaced the one Dadooooo got us in Chicago. There are red and white roses in the big blue vase in the dining room. I wore the tie-dyed tank top the Cuters and I made early one July. Red/White/Blue -- it makes for great patterns. I've got the plastic flag on my bike handles - the same one I bought with the Cuters at the 5andDimeStore in New Buffalo in 1985. The neighbors have invited us over for a family bar-b-que and the sun is shining. Life is good.

And I am grateful to Kevin and Kyle and Amy and Cat and Sara, and to Courtney and her sister and the 41st Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron, and to Terry and Moose and Stroker and Uncles Chuck and Paul and Abby ...... and to all those who've served so that it can be so.
 *****
And a special shout out this year to Aaron, a first lieutenant riding shotgun on convoys in Iraq.  MRAP's and body armor aside, it's a dangerous job that he's doing.  I've been sending boxes of goodies but I'll be much happier when he's stateside again and all I have to do is include him in the brownie list.  He's a brave and courageous soldier....... I pray every night for his safe return.

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed, from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." Thomas Jefferson, November 13, 1787

Friday, May 28, 2010

An Awkward Triumph

I'm right, yet I feel guilty.

Long time readers may remember the saga of my computer purchase from hell. As a refresher for those who don't want to revisit the past, here's the brief version:

After three years of obsessing, I found the perfect desktop computer and I ordered it for my birthday. It arrived late and did not work. Right out of the box, Dell had me removing the back panel and shaking and replacing components. After 2 hours, they agreed to take it back and send me a new one. The new one arrived several weeks later, and, once again, it did not perform as promised. After much angst, Dell's solution was to send me a new motherboard which I “could very easily install in the tower.” At that point, I had had enough. Who wants a new car with a replacement engine? I didn't buy a refurbished computer, I bought a new one. It was my birthday present after all, and I wanted it to be special. I decided that I wanted to return the machine; I'd pay the big bucks and buy a Mac. At that point, trebling the cost seemed a small price to pay for the restoration of my sanity.

Unfortunately, since it had taken Dell 4 months to determine that the problem was theirs and not mine, returning the device was no longer an option. The 30-day return period had elapsed.

I'll let that sit there for you for a minute or two.

I had filed a claim with my Visa card on the day the machine arrived – unusable and unfixable. Dell didn't really care about that claim. They kept harrassing me and calling me and sending me letters. I returned the favor and responded to them all. When I had had enough, I called my Visa carrier and spoke to Wes. He agreed that I was not asking for very much – I only wanted a return label and an authorization code – and he offered to take the matter out of my hands completely. “Let's see how they respond to a credit card company instead of to a woman in Tucson.”

That took place last spring. I've been working with and around the issues I have with the Dell tower, and I've been saving my shekels to make the switch to a Mac. I'd come to terms with the problem and had moved on to other, more pressing, things over which to worry. Everything was fine until Dell began calling me again last month. “Harry” and “Thomas”, through their thick south-asian accents, reminded me that I had not paid for the machine and that Dell was not amused. My responses were always the same: You have to contact Visa; this issue has been sent upstream and I am out of the loop.

I was pretty comfortable with repeating my mantra and agreeing to call Visa and provide my authorization for Dell to ask questions about my account and I wasn't really worried about anything until Tuesday, when I received an unsigned letter from Dell telling me that they were really sorry to have to send the account to collections and end our relationship in a law suit but they really had no options. I had forced their hand - “You have given us no choice in the matter.”

Hmmmmmm.... I had given them no choice in the matter? All I ever wanted was a return label. The packaging is taking up space in TBG's garage and he's none too happy about it. I would be delighted to give the machine back to them and go on my merry way. Gritting my teeth and trying to stop my hand from shaking, I dialed the phone number on the back of my credit card and began playing telephone symphony with the “push here” instructions. With only one minor delay, I ended up in the same department I'd found last Spring. Wes, my hero of 2009, was no where to be found, but William was a fine replacement. He listened (they are all good listeners in that department) and agreed with my analysis (so, of course, I was in awe of his powers of deduction) and then he paused. “All you want to do is return the tower, right? Why don't you do that?”

What followed was my explanation of the arcane rules which Dell has established in order to return equipment. There are no addresses on any paperwork a customer might accrue during the course of purchasing a computer from Dell which will accept a return. Dell must send you a password-protected attachment to an email which you can then download and print and use as the mailing label. Their website even tells you not to send the equipment to a random Dell address. Yes, William, I had been trying since last March to obtain one of those labels. I'd begged, I'd pleaded, I'd cried, I'd cajoled, and Dell kept offering to fix the damn thing, with me doing the work, guided by “Harry”'s and “Thomas”'s whose Mumbai dwelling parents never bestowed those monikers on their offspring.

(An aside – does Dell think I feel better talking to a faux-Harry than a real Amit? There's racist thinking living inside that paradigm... and I think it's directed my way. Assuming I'll have a problem with a foreign national is insulting. Assuming that I can't hear that my customer service representative's native language is not English is insulting. As long as his English is clear and his manner is charming, I don't care where he lives or what his name might be. I resent the implication that I do.)

After further review of the file, William told me that Dell had “broken the rules.” Now things were starting to feel better. I love it when a referee calls a foul on my opponent. Visa had notified Dell of the issue, and had retrieved the money they'd paid Dell for my computer. The next step was for Dell to “file a rebuttal” providing their side of the story. Then I could respond to their rebuttal and back and forth we'd go, with Visa acting as the go-between. That's part and parcel of the credit card agreement between merchants and the card companies.

Well, Dell had never filed the rebuttal. Worse, they had gone outside the system and employed a third party to collect the funds. That, apparently, is a big no-no in Credit Card Land. Once again, William told me that “they had broken the rules.” What does that mean, in practical terms? It means that Dell is screwed. By not filing the rebuttal they forfeited their rights in the case. By going to an outside party to collect the debt, they'd broken the contract between Visa – Dell – Me. Instead of trying to return the computer that has never really worked right, I was now the owner of a computer to which Dell had no right to expect payment. I didn't have to pay and I didn't have to return the computer.

Visa is sending me a letter verifying these facts. When next confronted by Dell or its minions, I am to present this letter and not worry.

Hmmmmm...... TBG is rightly concerned about our credit rating and the effect this activity will have on the number Ben Stein yaks about on those whack-a-mole commercials. (At least I assume he yaks; we put him on mute the moment his countenance graces the screen.) I'm of the opinion that there should be no change since I am right and Dell is wrong and Visa agrees with me, but skepticism is the order of the day when our finances are involved. A call to the rating agencies will, no doubt, be in the offing as I am certain that this saga has only reached the end of another chapter and not the end of the book.

But it's been an interesting journey in the back-offices of two major companies. Dell is a closed system with no interest in solving problems. Justin, the Visa supervisor, said it best : “If they'd only worked with you instead of against you none of this would have happened. This would have been simple.”

Well, simple it's not been. But I have met some wonderful men in Visa's help section. They must take calming classes before they are allowed on the phones, and yoga and meditative breathing are undoubtedly on their lunch menus. 100% of the people in their department have really listened and really heard what I had to say. They weren't automatically on my side; I had to explain and answer questions and prove to them that I'd tried. But their job was to treat me as a responsible adult who was having a problem. Dell's job seemed to be to separate me from my money, without displaying any interest in how the situation came to this point.

Once again, I am forced to stick with this Visa card. Though there are benefits from another card that might be more useful to me, Visa's help desk has been so perfect that they have earned a customer for life. As I told William and Justin (and Wes last year) I'm bitter..... but in a good way.

I'm also feeling guilty.  It was never my intention to have a computer for which I did not pay.  All I wanted was to return the damn thing.  Now, I've "won" kinda sorta... but it just doesn't feel right.  Honestly, I'd send it back if I could..... but, then again, that's been the problem from the start.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Pianist At Work

One of the nicest things about being married is that you gain a whole new set of relatives.  Although some are stranger than strange, some are more wonderful than anyone you've ever met before.  TBG's first cousin's daughter's husband is just such a man.  He's a pianist who performs and teaches and shares the joy.  Today's vacation piece is one of his students, Jidong Zhong, playing the Chopin Polonaise Fantasy, Pt. 1.

Jidong Zhong took first place in the 2010 Gottlieb Memorial Piano Competition, sponsored by the Maryland State Music Teachers Association.  I watched him make love to the piano and finally understood what it meant to "call forth music from the instrument".

I hope it makes you smile as much as I did.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Seen in an Airport

I have a 7:30am flight today. Tucson to Houston to Charlotte and MTF.   My visit to My True Friend has morphed into a mini-reunion of the Class of 1969.  The girls who were sweet in high school are still sweet as adults, and two of them are joining us for a visit to the Carolinas.  I've packed for 6 days in the Little Cuter's soccer bag; sundresses roll up into teeny tiny little balls and flip flops aren't much bigger.  Traveling light, that's me. 

I can't promise to have time to write every afternoon, so I'm scheduling some things I've found in the ether.  MTF is a doer and I fear my time to reflect and report will be constrained by the walking and talking and seeing and shopping and viewing and being. 

Enjoy the holiday weekend. I know I will. 
*****
I'm pretty sure I won't see anything this cool today.  The music is pretty nice, too. 

 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Nuance and Financial Regulation


The Wall Street Journal is my "paper of record" these days.  I succumbed to TBG's railing against the New York Times' liberal bias several years ago and canceled my subscription.  But the San Fransisco Chronicle just didn't make the cut as a purveyor of news; we quickly adopted its local nickname: The Comical.  Unwilling to give up newsprint in the morning, I entered into a long term relationship with the WSJ.  It's been a happy commingling of disparate points of view.  I'm reading the source material for what used to pass as conservative dialogue and I'm happily arguing with them in my head over oatmeal and skim milk.

The Opinion page is my favorite part (though I do love the little articles below the fold on the first page: seating for airport waiting areas... "Lost"'s foam set decorations... England's tax policies in 1530..... and that's just this week).  Every once in a while, there's an article on finance which I can understand.  That's usually because TBG's been talking about the subject, worrying about the subject, being furious and over-wrought and anxious and outraged about the subject and, over time, the details have made permanent imprints on my brain.  This is no small feat for a woman who, as the Big Cuter described it last week, is "sometimes willfully unable to learn things," and most of those "things" have to do with numbers.

But Edward Jay Epstein's article in today's (Saturday, May 22) paper was one of those times when I knew the background and had followed the story.  I was prepared.  And I was hit, once again, by the lack of nuance in most of what is reported as fact.  In this case, if Goldman Sachs were a person (and given our Supreme Court's latest ruling I suppose that personhood has been bestowed upon it) I'd say that it was being bullied by the SEC.

Gasp.

I'm of the opinion that the real bad guys in the economic melt-down were the bastards sons-of-bitches low-life scum  individuals who convinced low-income homeowners to refinance with adjustable rate mortgages, who made 6-figure home loans to taxi drivers pulling down $35,000/year, who preyed on the most vulnerable and made a good living themselves while doing the dirty deeds.  The packagers of the loans, the institutions which bet for or against the housing market, the Wall Street tycoons against whom the press is screeching, they don't bother me as much.  The only people on whom they were preying were each other.  As I tried to explain once before, every trade needs a buyer and a seller.  As Edward Jay Epstein wrote 
Of course, ACA knew someone was short the deal, since it sold Goldman a $900 million credit default swap precisely for that purpose.
 Or, in plainer English
The losers in the deal in question sold Goldman insurance to cover a down-turn in housing prices.  Goldman paid them $900 million for that insurance.  ACA then "effectively invested" its commission from that sale in securities designed to pay off if the housing market continued to rise. 
 Need it simpler?  I did, the first hundred times TBG explained it to me.  Try this:
The trade (a buyer + a seller) was for a financial instrument made up of sub-prime mortgages.  Some investors (ACA, for example) invested in a way that would pay off if the mortgages were kept current.  Some investors (John Paulson, at the time a little-known hedge fund operator) would win if the mortgagees defaulted.  Each side of the transaction knew that someone was on the other side, betting on red while they were betting on black.
Did it matter whether each side knew the identity of the other?  The SEC claims that it does, in this instance.  The fact that it had rarely been considered material in hundreds of other similar transactions has gotten lost in the clamor.  In any event, since almost all the instruments made up of sub-prime mortgages were losers (because the loans were made to people who couldn't pay them back), did it really matter which ones were in the instrument ACA purchased? 
I don't think so.  I agree with Mr. Epstein that the case against Goldman Sachs is a weak one.  They are being accused of doing business as usual.  Goldman lost $75 million on the deal.  That sounds like a lot of money to you and me, (ok, to me, anyway) but consider this: Goldman Sachs posted $45.17 billion in 2009 revenue.  $75 million is 0.0166% of $45.17 billion.  It's just not that much money.  

Oh, and did you notice the incongruity in the last paragraph?  Goldman LOST money.  They bet alongside the investors the SEC is claiming were damaged.  Wouldn't it have made sense for them to have invested on the other side if they were really running a scam?  After all, they didn't have $45.17 billion dollars in revenue by consistently making losing bets.  And you know what they say, $75 million here, $75 million there, soon you're talking about Real Money.

So, one wonders, why would the Democrats appointed to the SEC click here for background on the SEC  agree to bring the case at all?  Because the financial regulation bill was working its way through Congress.  The lobbyists were primed on the one side; there was no doubt that Wall Street's minions were working the legislators, promising this and that and the other.  All the Democrats had on their side was the notion that this was the right thing to do.  Without voter outrage, our elected officials would hear from only the financial sector's advocates.  With the SEC spanking Goldman Sachs in public, our news outlets had a field day.  It's a much simpler story to tell when you leave out the nuance.  Goldman is crooked.  All of Wall Street is crooked.  There were our liberal soundbites, our talking points, our reason-the-economy-tanked..... it's all because Goldman Sachs did something immoral and illegal and heinous and they ought to be punished.  We called our representatives, we emailed, we wrote letters to the editor and the financial reform bill is now in conference and is soon to be signed.  

Our outrage was real, I'm just not so sure it was well placed.   The nuances of the deals are arcane.  They deal with numbers and the market and securities and most of us on the leftish side of things don't seem to be very comfortable with the facts attendant on those subjects.  We can rant and rave all we want, all the while forgetting that Bill Clinton hired Bob Rubin, Co-Chairman of Goldman Sachs, to right the ship.  At the time, his experience at the investment bank was seen as deliciously wonderful - a Democrat with financial smarts.  I don't recall much outrage when he opposed regulating the derivatives markets back in 1997.
Yet, had he and Alan Greenspan allowed the natural tension between the players and the rule-makers to exist, my guess is that none of this would have happened. 

Once again, without the nuance, without taking the time to really investigate what needs investigation, by taking the short, soundbite way out of things, we've lost something.  I wouldn't care if what was lost was unimportant.  But it's not.  It's the ability/desire/effort taken to make our own decisions based on facts and thoughtful consideration. 

I've written about this before and I will be writing about it again.  There is so much more to say.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Celebration

C.T. celebrated her First Communion on Sunday.   I'm not sure of the religious significance of the event, beyond knowing that it takes place during a Catholic Mass.  Her parents invited us to share in the luncheon which followed, but spared us the church service.  We'd have attended, but being averse to formal religion and any activity which requires prolonged sitting on armless seats, we were not unhappy with the "party only" invitation.

She looked resplendent in her white satin dress.  Her tiara sparkled amidst her curls until the pressure on her cranium sent the jewels into mom's purse.  It was a small affair, with two tables of grown-ups and one for the kids.  What to do with the high school sophomore, sister of CT's playmate and baby-sitter extraordinaire? She had the dubious honor of sitting at the kids' table.  It was a well-behaved crowd (save for a little bit of spitting over the side of the balcony ..... into the wind... showing poor judgment as well as bad manners and causing much hilarity among the adults) and I'm not sure they needed a (young) adult presence, but she didn't seem upset in the least.  She was smiling, just like the rest of us.

Was she thinking back to her own First Communion?  Was she noticing that another generation was following in her footsteps?  Did she stop to reflect on the passage of time?  Probably not.  

I always like the linkage between the ages that is celebrated by these sorts of days.  Down through the centuries, C.T.'s relatives have stood in similar places and recited and knelt and  prayed just as she did.  There's something very comforting to me in the recognition of that fact.  The more things change, the more they stay the same touches on the edges of what I'm trying to convey, but it's more than that.  It's true that there is a rigidity to the repetition of the pattern, but there is also connectivity.  In these days when most of us live far from our families, these traditions help close the gap.

Relatives traveled from distant coasts to join in the festivities.  Her grandpa is a famous sports guy, whose hand dwarfed mine, making curling my fingers to return his firm grip a total impossibility.  It wasn't a dead fish handshake, I promise.  I did the best I could.  There was talk of horses and Chicago and Oakland and lots of right-on-the-edge sports rivalry patter.  The food was delicious, the ambiance delightful, and there was nothing over the top about it.  The men in the immediate family were in sport coats or suits, but the rest of us were in Tucson Casual -- more than flip flops and less than a heels and hose.  The whole thing lasted 2 hours.

TBG and I contrasted this event with the last not-in-our-family religious celebration we attended.  It was a Long Island Bat Mitzvah at a country club.  There were three bands for the 400 grown-ups, including female impersonators doing Donna Summer.  That was before dinner.  The kids had a casino, another live band, a t-shirt design station,  ice sculptures on every table, and dinner served three times during the course of the evening.  By 11pm we were getting pretty hungry; dinner finally concluded at 1:30am and then the post-prandial partying began.  As the club closed at 4, the guests went home to change clothes and then reappear at the hostess's home at 7 for breakfast and the party video.  The New York Times was also served. Neither one of us can remember the celebrant's name, let alone her face.

We may not remember C.T.'s luncheon in the same kind of vivid detail that the Extravaganza on the Island conjures, but that's just fine.  We'll always remember that we were included in her special day.  We'll remember her bright eyes and her loving family and her perfect speech to wrap things up..... with a big smile and a sweeping hand, she bowed from the waist and said "THANK YOU" in a clear and heartfelt First Communion Luncheon tone.  

Not too much.  Not too little.  Just right.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Nuance. or the Lack Thereof

I received an email from "The March of the Monahans".

It rang no bells in my head, though it sounded vaguely Tea Party-ish.  My spam filter is generally pretty good, so I tried to recall if I'd joined a Facebook group or followed a link while researching something else but I came up empty.  Even after reading the main text and glancing at the links, I can't remember how I got on their distribution list.  But it's sparked this post, so I suppose I should be grateful.

Corporate Personhood seems to be the basis of the trek these brothers are making across the USofA.  They are trying to drum up support to amend the Constitution to end corporate personhood, saying that the Supreme Court  "made people second class citizens to corporations."

I've been trying to understand the nuances of the phrase. Knowing 2 law mavens (one retired, one studying) I have access to some fine legal thinking.  The issue has been dissected in the Wall Street Journal and the town weekly and on the nightly news and the daily radio talk shows.  The lawyers who are interviewed try to find answers in 10 word soundbites, but the questioners have their own agendas and control of the microphones.  Nuance, always in short supply in our public discussions, seems to be necessary here.  I'm having a hard time finding any.  The law is precise, parsing actions and speech, but the logic behind the Supreme Court's decision may just be so nuanced that I am hearing it as blather.  Or maybe I'm just dense.  In any event, amending the Constitution seems like a blunt instrument being used in a delicate situation.

Gabrielle Giffords is my Representative in the House.  She's a Jewish girl, a business person, and she's married to an astronaut.  She has thoughtful positions on the issues, and since she ran against a guy who said "if it's in the Bible it's good enough for me" in response to a question on evolution she pretty much had my vote from the beginning.  Yesterday, there was a gentleman of a certain age holding a clip-board outside the library.  He was soliciting signatures from Democrats and Independents to place Gabby's name on the November ballot.  Republicans were not able to sign, but Independents were.  I asked him about that, wondering why an Independent like me should have a say in selecting a candidate for the Democrats, and he read me some verbiage from the notebook he was carrying, but there wasn't an answer there that I could hear.  I tried to engage him in a conversation about it, but his eyes glazed over almost immediately.  So much for my ability to find nuance on a personal level.

The Arizona state legislature refused to bring a bill increasing the sales tax to a vote.  They were willing to put it to the voters, though, and on Tuesday they got their answer.  Yes, we would bite the bullet and save ourselves from the sorry mess we are in by adding one cent to our sales tax for the next three years.  The tax begins almost immediately.  The analysis has been one-dimensional: the schools mobilized and fought for the proposition and they get the credit for its passage.  Once again, the nuances are lost.  My Yes vote had the effect of saving our schools and health and public safety providers from further cuts, but its genesis was not in "save our schools" or "keep our public hospitals open."  I was trying in the only public way available to me, to send a message to our legislature.  And what is my message?  Of course, it is nuanced ..... do not underestimate the voters or our willingness to take on some of the burden of restoring our state budge to some semblance of balance, do not underestimate our ability to understand the facts and figures, and do not underestimate our ability to recognize that this is exactly the kind of business you were elected to consider and act upon.  Their fear of being voted out of office should they support increasing taxes trumped any kind of effort to solve the problem themselves.  Time and energy and money were spent to hold an election which could have been avoided if they had just done their jobs.  By sending it to the electorate, they avoided having to analyze and explain, with nuance, how conservatives could see the need to bump up the state's revenues, even though that meant a tax hike.  In an effort to save their jobs, legislators would have had to present cogent arguments, nuanced arguments, to the public.  We'd have gotten smarter and they would have earned their keep.

But, it seems, that is just too much to ask.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Growing Up - Stages (part two)

I'm still stuck on stages(Click to read yesterday's explanatory post)

I've been walking around all day getting used to the idea that G'ma is not demented (I know that) nor deteriorating (I know that) but that she's also not the same woman she was in her previous stage.  As the wonderful Occupational Therapist at the rehab hospital told me: my old mother is gone, but this new one is pretty cool.

That other woman was independent, judgmental and always there when I needed her.  At this new point in her life, she's still judgmental and emotionally available but she's also less controlling.  I think it's a consequence of not being able to recapture events gone by; it's awfully hard to assert your will if you have no memory of the conversation in which you expressed your opinion.  I've been working on the notion that this isn't disease or disability but merely another stage, complete with its own peculiar joys and challenges. 

On a certain level, that's a very brave place to be.  I'm accepting her for who she is and I'm not trying to medicate or therapize or condition it away.  I am in the moment with her,  not thinking about the past.  I'm just going with the flow, and really meaning it when I say that it doesn't bother me to walk at her slow pace - because if she weren't here I wouldn't be walking with her at all, slowly or quickly.  When she asks me what the yellow blossomed trees are, I am embracing the fact that my mom is in the front seat next to me, noticing the palo verdes against the blue sky.  I'm not mourning the loss of my old mom, who would have been comparing those trees to the ones in my front yard and giving me advice on how to improve the ones I was trying to nurture.

Before she moved here, I had a monolithic view of my maternal unit.  When she came here and fell and fell again and showed me that she really couldn't/shouldn't/didn't want to live on her own, I resisted the notion with every fiber of my being.  No way was she giving up her independence. She'd put up with my father for 53 long years and she was going to enjoy her dotage if it killed me.  And it nearly did kill us both.

Once we were able to give up the notion of her maintaining her own apartment on her own...... typing that phrase made me stop.  Right here on the love seat.  I'm reading it over and over again and I'm finding that I'm smiling.  We were able to give up the notion of her living on her own.  Not I.   I typed it without considering the pronoun, because I was going someplace with the thought (I'll get there, I promise).  But seeing it there makes me realize that it truly was a joint decision.  Sure, she said I trust you and it's true that I did all the research and only showed her the place I wanted her to choose, but that was okay with her.  It wasn't only laziness on her part (though that was certainly a big piece of it -- I am looking at this honestly now)  but it was also an indication of what this next stage is all about.  I didn't recognize it at the time, but she was growing.... growing older....growing old..... growing up? 

When do we stop growing up and start growing old? 

Perhaps that the operant question - when does change begin to be seen as malfunction.  I can't do it anymore and we all have those it's, don't we.  Play basketball, knit with black yarn, weed the garden... aging is so often about what is lost.  What I am poking around at, trying to figure out, examining from many angles, is the differentiation of the stages of adulthood.  There's work and self-sufficiency and, sometimes, parenthood, and they all can be defined.  But once the external descriptors are gone, once the things by which others define us disappear, what do we have to define the changes except what is lost. 

My plan is to resist that configuration.  I am going to delight in the silliness of repeating myself 100 times an hour.  I am going to giggle when G'ma won't decide between the banquette or the chair.  Laughter will roll forth as I tell her to take my brother's bar mitzvah picture off the wall to show the hairdresser the style she'd like to sport, because there's no way in the world she remembers what she used to look like. 

Our stages are less defined, but they are still there.  My mission, and I've chosen to accept it,  is to find positive demarcations.  I like the idea that I'm still growing up.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stages

I smiled when I heard someone refer to the terrible twos this week.  They never felt any more terrible to me than the threes or the fours or the twelves.  They were just different.

I've always thought that the changes in the first year of a baby's life are so dramatic and so plentiful that parents miss the forest for the trees.  There's so much to notice and to which you must adjust and the changes are so rapid that you hardly have a chance to catch your breath.  First you have to remember to support their heads, then they're crying, then they're not sleeping, then they are learning to eat, then they are noticing that you're leaving and you're so wrapped up in the differences that you lose track of the gestalt.

It's hard to see the growth as a series of stages when you are living it and it's happening so fast.  But somewhere around 24 months things seem to slow down.  The stages being to lengthen and last forever.  It's an illusion, really.  The mischievous crawler who takes fiendish delight in scooting out of sight turns into the arms-above-her-head almost-walker who bends your spine into a permanent crouch as you support her efforts to ambulate without her parents really registering the change.  And just when you think you can't lean over for one more trip down the hall, she's running on her own. 

The teetering toddler stage was the first one I recognized as having an actual beginning and end.  Drunk on a teaspoon of champagne at his first birthday party, the Big Cuter, having heretofore shown no signs of wanting to walk on his own, suddenly ran down the hallway of our apartment, then ran back and grabbed my leg.  He repeated this pattern for the better part of an hour, going away and then returning to touch a parent, over and over again.  Then he napped.  When he awoke, walking was no big deal.  He was steady and strong and he never toppled over.  I remember thinking that it was the shortest stage of his life.

I was reminded of this yesterday when the boys were here.  My life has many chapters and I've lived in many places, but explaining to the visiting son the evolution of the friendship I share with his parents sent me right back to 7th grade.  I remembered the feelings as I retold the stories.  Though the words were where and there and then my thoughts were anxious and deliriously happy and wondering and I realized that I was watching myself grow up. 

When you've shared puberty and graduation and touched base through parenting there's an interesting time-line effect.  Our three lives overlapped in comfortable ways over all that time, and telling the stories chronologically let me see it through fresh eyes - those of the son of my friends, who'd heard pieces and places before but never listened to this version, my version, my road to where I am right now.  I saw the frightened 12 year old turn into the cocky 16 year old and I could hear the tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum.  There had been a rupture, a chasm, a revolution and I'd moved into a new sphere.  I was moving through stages that were longer and less dramatic but no less powerful or important than the race I'd run in my first twelve months of life.

Why am I belaboring this point?  Because the stages are still shifting.  They're just so long that they are barely noticeable.  Major conflicts take more time to resolve, because the stage is stretching out, like Gumby.  And, like Gumby, it's a little bit fragile when it tries to come back to its original shape. It can be done, but it's a little different every time.  And gradually, it's just different enough that a partner might point it out. 

Just when I thought that I could relax into cronehood,  I'm forced to consider the fact that I'm still growing.  Just when I thought I had it figured out. 

Damn.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Other People's Children

I spent the afternoon with other people's children.

I met Mr. 6 in the courtyard of his magnet school, where he informed me that we didn't have to say good-bye to his teacher and that he wanted to go to Frost.  We collected Mr. 4 and his 2 Leggo guys from the Montessori school and he thought that ice cream was a pretty good idea, too..  As we approached the storefront I asked "Who is going to hold the door for me?" and they both ran toward the handle screeching "I will" "I will."  A mom dining al fresco with her daughter told me how polite they were and I beamed.  So did the boys, who were rewarded with gumballs on their gelato and a dime each for opening the door (5cents) and for having someone compliment their actions (5cents).

Yes, I bribe them.  Look at it this way: it's Make your bed and Mommy will love you versus Mommy loves you.  Make your bed and you'll earn a quarter.   A behaviorist by training and a parent by plan, I quickly saw that there was nothing intrinsically seductive about a made bed to a 7 year old.  Quarters, however, were highly potentiated, as we say in the trade.  That is - the kids really really really wanted those quarters.  I will present empirical evidence for the truth of this theory..... read on.

In the same inbox where Amster and I were confirming our plans for her boys, there was an email from my junior high crush and his wife who loved him then, too, telling me that their eldest child was traveling from El Paso to Phoenix with a friend and asking if I wanted them to stop by as they passed through Tucson.  Sure, why not?  I'd never met him, but I've known his parents since we were 12.  The chance to see the person they'd created was a rare and wonderful opportunity.

We texted and emailed and while the Messers 4 & 6 were riding in the boy-powered Testarossa which Daddooooo made for the Big Cuter 25 years ago, the son+1 pulled into the driveway.  Introductions were made and we started to go inside when Mr. 4 squealed and smiled up at me and said "You know what we forgot? We forgot 'nice to meet you'" whereupon he promptly skipped (yes, he skips) up to the son, stuck out his hand and said "Nice to meet you - I'm Mr. 4."  His grin was infectious and any awkwardness about dropping in on your parents' friend who you've never met was floating away on the kid's joy in the process of being polite.  We shook hands all around and came inside for brownies and chocolate milk.

My house was suddenly filled with the off-spring of some of my favorite people.  Four boys.... because no matter how old they become, they are always boys.  The little ones were running around and around the big ones perched in their grownup chairs and the big boys were enjoying every raucous minute. We admired Leggo creations and talked about Tucson and writing and Scottsdale and then the Lakers/Suns game came on the screen and TBG and the son engaged in 5 or 10 minutes of sports patter... old sports patter because the son lost interest in the game in the late '90's .

And they looked like men look all over America, men who were boys and still are boys and who are fed and nurtured and loved by their mothers and surrogates for their mothers, women who bake them brownies and buy them ice cream and send them off with cherries and bottles of water and the original idea for today's post.  Because when your friend's son is a writer it seems only right to share.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Random Thoughts

The heat has arrived and we're all wilting.  My hanging basket of nemesia and a pretty purple trailing vine whose name escapes me keeled over within the space of an afternoon and was unable to be revived.  There was nothing to save so I started over again with CT's extra flowers (she chose them, Dad paid for them, and these didn't fit in their beds).  I've never planted portulaca before.  I've never had any luck with lobelia.  They were both a part of CT's donation, though, so into the coir liner they went.  This time, I'm putting the coir inside a plastic pot, hoping for greater structural integrity than is usually afforded by the coir alone. 

There's nothing worth photographing yet, but at least they are not dead.
*****
The Cavs are out of the playoffs and TBG is adrift.  He should have been watching LeBron this afternoon instead of napping through the Celtics/Orlando game.  For a while, he was very proud to be from Cleveland.....
*****
I was part of a Facebook quest to have a million people express their displeasure with SB1070, Arizona's ill-conceived attempt to secure our border with Mexico.  The notifications were less strident than most of their ilk, and infrequent enough to be ignored easily.  Then they decided to boycott my state and I figured out how to un-join them.

It's true that without tourists my favorite spots will be quieter, but without tourism Arizona's economy will just shrivel up and die.  I  just can't be a part of that.  Come to Tucson.  Our police chief says his minions are overworked and underpaid as it is without doing the job the Feds have assigned to the Border Patrol and ICE.  We're a multi-ethnic community which generally gets along quite well.  The fact that we are 65 miles from the border means that our shopping centers are filled with Sonoran license plates.  This bill is a mis-guided attempt to protect the Arizonans who ranch and farm and live and hike and fish and birdwatch along the beautiful lands along the border.  They are over-run with vandals and vagrants and varmints of the 2-legged kind, and these intruders are carrying weapons and drugs as often as they are carrying dreams of a better life. 

SB1070 is just a ham-fisted way of attacking the problem.   To those of you who have commented that this would be a wake-up call to Washington, I'm still waiting.....
*****
G'ma and I took a picnic up to Mt. Lemmon on Friday.  It was 30 degrees cooler at 8000' and the pine trees smelled like Lake George and the cabin we went to summer after summer.  There were squirrels and blue skies and the road was a marvel of engineering

Catalina Highway  
We were smiling all the way up and all through the picnic and all the way down and G'ma never felt sleepy and she remembered the saguaros were saguaros and I was reminded why I nag at her to get up and go with me.  I don't always have to win, but, always and forever,  I will continue to encourage.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Modern Poetry

Apparently, the Little Cuter had an adventure on the way to work today.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:

Dont even get me started on this day  

Three full buses pass my stop before I can get on
It is pouring rain and thundering
Ive left my rain boots at work
I have squishy feet
I finally get on the fourth bus that comes by our stop
It is still pouring rain
There is bumper to bumper traffic on LSD
Whats that? Why did the lights go out on the bus?
Oh because the bus DIED
Hey look! Hes trying to start the bus up again
IN THE MIDDLE OF LAKE SHORE DRIVE
The bus is working again!
Wait
Whats that?
Are we coasting?
Where did the engine noise go?
We DIED? AGAIN!?
Where are the lights?
What are we going to do?
Oh, were going to wait for another bus?
What time is it now? 8:20?
What time did I leave my apartment and begin waiting for the bus? 7:35?
Oh, you want us to WALK ACROSS LAKE SHORE DRIVE TO GET ON ANOTHER BUS?
IN THE POURING RAIN?
Oh SURE
Because I dont care for my health and safety or anything
PHEW! Im on another bus!
What the F*^#@ is that up there?
A MERGE SIGN?
ON LASALLE!?
DURING RUSH HOUR?
ON A THURSDAY!?
FLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOODDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD
I guess Ill just get out and walk?
Oh right, Im a mile away from work
And 15 minutes late already
And the guys need a special presentation for the morning meeting and only I have access to it on my email
Awesome.
And its STILL RAINING! And Im walking, and wait, whats that sensation?
Thats a car spraying me with its entrails as it speeds through a puddle. 
Thanks CABBIE.
Was that lightning?
Should I just go home?
No, persevere.. and Ive ARRIVED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Why did I get out of bed again this morning?

Seriously.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wild Kingdom



It's just a little bit cooler today, and the fauna are taking advantage of it.

The photos may not be as wonderful as those I usually post (yes, I am patting myself on the back) but catching wildlife in the wild requires a better camera than the proceeds of this blog (to date, $0 of income) afford. 

So, look at what I encountered this week:

These Gambel's Quail (Callipepla gambelii) are all over the neighborhood.  They travel in family groups when the eggs hatch.  For now, they are foraging for sweet creatures living in and around the flora.  This one sat on the window sill and refused to move away from the screen so that I could get a clear picture. 



My desk abuts this window; I'm typing 3 feet from this bird.


I saw this coyote as I finished photographing my avian friend and looked out toward the road.



Prior experiences have taught me that I have to go outside and try to snap the picture as the beast traverses my property.  Someday I'll be quick enough to change the camera setting to sport mode as I'm racing to the front door, but today was not that day.


I've labeled the fauna so you can see what I saw.

 

There was definitely some eye contact as I raised the camera to my face, but I suppose I wasn't all that fascinating because the animal just kept walking.

I'm not entirely sure what I'd have done had the beast decided that a closer look seemed reasonable ....

For the really up-close-and-personal interaction, though, I leave you with what I saw (or didn't see) when I went out early one morning to hand water my transplanted oleander.


Do you see anything except the walkway and the stone mulch? 

Neither did I.  So you can imagine my surprise as I looked down to be certain I was not crushing a cactus baby and saw this fellow absorbing some energy producing rays:


Life in the desert is nothing if not surprising.

I stepped to the left, did my watering, and went back inside.

There was no sign of snake when I headed out to the gym an hour later.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Random Musings

How do you know that the person to whom you are talking is the person she claims to be?  If you've never interacted in a face-to-face situation, how do you know that it is she when there's a woman standing in front of you claiming her identity?  

We were watching an impressively bright print of 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood as the unknown traveler declared his kingly-ness by opening his robe, thus revealing his royal coat of arms.  There were no newspapers or televisions or portrait galleries in Norman vs Saxon times, so how did Robin and his merry men know that the garments had not been stolen?  The second time Richard pulls that stunt Claude Rains cries as his coronation is interrupted "It's an impostor!"  It is not an altogether unreasonable assumption.

Talk about cheering for laundry...
*****

Dallas Braden pitched a perfect game.  In baseball, that means 27 batters up to the plate, 27 batters retired.  No one sets a foot on base.  No one is credited with a walk or a hit.  In a no-hitter, players can be walked or balked field error'ed and reach a base.  In a perfect game that doesn't happen.  The opponent sends 27 batters to the plate, and they all return to the dugout.    And in this case, Braden's opponent were the Rays, the best team in baseball.

Baseball has been keeping statistics since 1901, according to the Baseball Almanac.  In all that time, there have been 19 perfect games.  In 109 years.

Baseball keeps a lot of statistics, probably more statistics than any organization ever ought to collect.  But this one is really very special.  And so was the hugging



His teammates swarm him and his coaches are joyous and he's walking, straight towards something and then at about 1:39 he finds his grandmother and it's a total sobfest.  The two of them have created a hug which requires new nomenclature..... it's more than engulfed or enmeshed or entwined or combined or ..... I'm open for suggestions.

And, it happened on Mother's Day.
*****
The Big Cuter was a Mother's Day baby.  Teaching hospitals can be overwhelming places, but on a Sunday towards the end of the interns' and residents' rotations, and a Sunday which happens to be Mothers' Day (I'm still wondering about that apostrophe) ... well, on that kind of Sunday there aren't many people around.  It was Janice-our-OB, one beautiful nurse with a long braid wrapped around her head, TBG and me.  And then there was the Big Cuter, sunnyside-up and curious even then, and he was in the room and everything was different.

He's finished his exams and the first year of law school is behind him.  Adulthood is rushing up, inexorably crowding the little boy's space with responsibilities.  But tonight he's watching Learning to Fly and remembering the feeling of cheering for the best team, a team that would not lose, a team that was his when he was 7 and both he and Michael Jordan lived in Chicago and loved the Bulls.  

And I'm struck, again, by the depth of my love. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Summer's Comin'

The weed has become a flower, although a short-lived and scruffy one.



It's hot at 6:30 in the morning as I'm watering the few new plants I installed in February.
My upgraded irrigation system is doing its part to keep things thriving, but I'm regretting stopping the project before I'd finished finding the line.  The ground is baked caked solid; the only softness is from the hollowing out of burrows by ground squirrels and others who use my front yard as a rooftop parking garage and observation post.  The small trowel is no longer up to the task, and using anything larger runs the risk of breaking the line while employing my massive strength to break through.  Precision work is hard to achieve while using a pickaxe.

We have had cloudless windy days just shy of triple digits this week.  Yesterday, the sun felt a lot stronger and the breeze was stirring up the pollen drooling off the palo verdes and the world's fattest bee was gorging on the blossoms before joining us in the pool for a post-prandial cocktail.  We were happy to share our bounty.  I've never owned this much water before; it seems selfish to keep to to myself.

I'm prepared to water my container plants every morning without fail.  But every year I miss the onset of the 6 week period when I must water them twice a day.  I know I've missed it when I wake up and see this

Those four or five sparkly purple blooms are all that are left of the basket which just the day before had been a riot of pink and white and shades of violet.  It's in need of a drastic make-over.

Then there's the pretty little hibiscus with the curvy shiny green leaves.  Or at least it used to be pretty and the foliage used to exist.  This morning, it looked like this;


I've fertilized and ?over?watered and moved it from a partly sunny to a covered location and it just gets worse.

My prickly pear transplant seems to be doing just fine, and the emu bush hasn't keeled over and then there is my amazing tomato plant:

That's one giant flowering and fruiting plant.  The Big Cuter sent me a variety of apparati with which to tame the savage tomato beast, and this ever expanding circular contraption seems to to do the trick.  There are some very very small tomatoes on the undersides of the lower leaves, but, after 3 years of failed attempts I think I may just have hit upon a combination of plant/irrigation/suspension/bird protection/ease of harvest which will provide me with more than my previous harvest's total:  12 cherry tomatoes.  There were damn good cherry tomatoes, but there were only 12.  (Flash to the apocryphal  unbelievably delicious home grown tomato which, after all the costs were figured in, cost $80)

It's time, I think to plant the summer hardy plants and admit to myself that I do, in fact, live in the desert where the growing things must survive in the triple digits under cloudless skies and atop reflective sandy surfaces.  It takes a special kind of something to succeed under those conditions and I'm learning that it's better to accept what works and smile.

The vinca is invasive in the ground but delightfully overflowing in a big ceramic container.  It's not that exciting a plant, but it works.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Mothers' Day Reverie

The sun was out when I brought in the newspaper this morning.  I don't remember it ever raining on Mothers' Day.  We did the same things every year and I never remember dodging raindrops to follow the plan.  I suppose we went to visit our grandparents, just as we did every single Sunday, but those memories aren't as well available as are our immediate family's routine.  It was Mother's Day (where does that apostrophe belong, I wonder?) and that meant florist, bakery, breakfast on a tray and hugs in her bed.   The memory makes me smile.

And now, 5 decades later, I am older than she was when those memories were created.  She's living with strangers (nice strangers, but strangers nonetheless) and I have to drive to bring her flowers and watch her eat her breakfast in bed.  She's reread her card twice since I've been here, and been surprised and delighted each time.  When I apologized for forgetting her traditional gardenia corsage for the second year in a row, she was flummoxed. "Why would I care?  Do I like gardenias?  Did I used to like gardenias?"  YES, I want to shout at her.  The gardenia was the official indicator that this was a special day.  You wore it everywhere we went and bragged to all viewers that your children loved you.  How can that memory be lost, too?

But I didn't yell or scream.  I reminded her of the corsage and the breakfast in bed and the prune danish that accompanied the french toast and OJ and coffee and her face lit up as she wondered aloud "Why do I remember the danish?"  I don't know.  I wish I did, but I don't.

The pod castle has chateaubriand and roasted potatoes and fancy homemade dessert pastries for lunch, but we're going for sushi with Amster and her family.  That is, the plan is to join them.  However, waking up this morning has been a challenge for G'ma and as I sit here typing just a bit before noon, she's finally finished breakfast and has moved to the shower.  Though she was officially "awake" for her 9am pills,  her body remained abed.  When I arrived at 11am (after lifting weights with Amster and walking the treadmill with my new Alafair Burke mystery and watering my containers and folding laundry and cleaning the kitchen counters ..... ONE of us has had a productive morning) the comforter was wrapped around her like a kosher hot dog.  Rolling over to see who was there to annoy her was an effort, but her smile when she saw my face behind the pink roses and the greeting card sent my exasperation with her sleepiness directly to the recycle bin.  There's a certain twinkle in her eyes that sends me spinning back to elementary school.  I know I've done something to make her happy and the joy just bounced back and forth between us.

I pulled my favorite of her blouses from her closet and paired it with tan pants.  It usually is worn with navy pants, and her face as she examined the outfit was a study in what her life must be like these days.  The clothes were familiar (she's not a "snappy dresser" and her wardrobe is modest) but the combination was surprising.  She stood between the closet and the chair on which I had slipped the hangars.  She stood there, touching the yellow polyester blouse and staring quizzically at those tan pants.  Her eyes darted to the closet; yes, there were blue pants on the rack.  "Do you like the tan pants?  I thought it would be nice for a change."  Her smile returned.  She hadn't made a mistake; I had chosen the unusual combination.  And if it made me happy then it would make her happy, too, because her whole life has been organized around the concept of putting a smile on my face.  I don't know if my siblings would be able to type that last sentence, but I know that I can.

She's tired and wants to sleep and I'm worried that showering will exhaust her and lunch will never happen.  Amster's crew has already left for the sushi place, and still I'm waiting to hear the water start to run in the shower.  Lunch may happen today.... it might just be eaten around dinner time. 

And here I am, back in my same predicament.  We had an activity and she's sleeping through it.  My plan had been to motivate her to participate in the world around her.  Instead, I find myself accommodating her lengthening sleep patterns and carting her off to bed when I'd rather have her company at the market or the mall.  I always offer a choice of things to do, and one of the choices is always go home to nap.  Lately, that's been her selection.  I wonder, as I always do, if it's a medically treatable symptom.  I never get further than worrying, though, because to take action would involve a visit to the physician and who knows what he'll discover?  At this point, we seem to do better when we ignore the little aches and pains;  But is this a little ache or a symptom of a larger issue?  The pod castle workers are all laughing with her over her need to nap, but I am watching my mommy melt into a couch.

I'm back to the advice I received from the Occupational Therapist when G'ma was recovering from her bilateral broken ankles.  "Stop looking for the mom you used to know.  She's gone.  But this mom you have right now is pretty cool.  Why don't you get to know her?"

I'm trying.  I really really am trying.

For today, though, all I want to do is manage to have lunch.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Markets' Mini-Meltdown


Dear Readers,
I live with a recovering investment professional.  Days like today remind me why I am glad that he is a retired person.  I am going to expound on the situation, and hope that you don't decide it's boring or too complicated and click away.  I'll add parentheticals and italicizations (have I just coined another word?) and try to make it as plain as I can.  But I was laughing so hard by the close of business today that I just had to share the joy. 
a/b
*****

 Procter and Gamble's stock took a little tumble towards the end of trading today. 


http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=PG


As the graph so eloquently depicts, something happened at 2:4opm.

There it was, tooling along in the area of $60 a share when suddenly there was a trade at $39.
A trade = a buyer and a seller.

Almost immediately, the entire market followed suit.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-stocks-end-lower-after-nightmarish-day-2010-05-06?dist=afterbell

The lines represent the Dow, the S&P 500, and the NASDAQ Composite indices. 
If you don't know what that means, feel comfortable looking at it and seeing the way business went for the major players in the stock market today.

How can this happen, you ask?  Well, Dear Readers, it's a two part question, even if you didn't know it when you posed it.  And I, Ashleigh Burroughs, am here to present my theories.
As I said, there are two pieces to the inquiry: 
  • Why was there a trade at $39?
  • Why did one trade cause the entire market to fall down the rabbit hole?
The answers have a lot to do with the way stocks are traded these days.  Indulge me, if you will, as we travel down memory lane.  There have always been markets, and until very recently they were human-to-human interactions, kind of like this scene from Trading Places, minus the violence:

An oft-told Wall Street story is that of Gus Levy, Goldman Sach's entire trading department in the 1930's, carrying trade tickets in the inner brim of his hat as he made the rounds of his clients before heading to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to begin his day.  Teletype machines (ticker tape parades were literally that: the strips of paper recording the day's trades came out of the machines and were tossed on the heads of dignitaries) and telephones added a layer of distance between the trading floor and the brokers and their clients.  Then came the computer, with its massive capabilities and an ability to act on its own.

Well, ok, not really on its own, but let us look back to your second question, grasshopper, and discover why the entire market followed one stock's plunge.  Computing power allows investors to create automated trading strategies based on the performance of the markets over time and historical events and, I don't know, the weather maybe.  There are algorithms which take into account variations in the behaviors of certain stocks, or sectors of the market, or, who knows, the phases of the moon and which are fine tuned to recognize and recalibrate when things change, no matter how minutely. These programs are authorized (here's the "on its own" part) to send trading instructions to the market floor.  

Here's where the fun starts.  Since there was no human being to say "What is going on here?  This isn't right/rational/logical?" when the trade was made, it went through smoothly.  Immediately, the automated programs began to incorporate this precipitous drop into their calculations and presto, change-o, alakazam kazowie, the leading indicators were on their way down, too. 

The panic didn't last long (the graph makes it seem like 20 minutes or so), and the talking heads were saying that the situation in Greece and Spain and the future of the EuroZone and the euro itself added to the stress, but they were shaken by the event.  

And what was that event, you might ask?  We are now back to Question #1 -- $39?????  And here's what I think:
Somewhere, at a trading desk, sits an order taker or a clerk or an assistant or associate.... some poor soul who is having a true Steve Urkel moment.

Or, as Sarah says to Chuck in episode 14 of season 3  (thanks to the Big Cuter for this reference), "I made an oopsy."

I picture this kid, staring blankly at his screen, waiting for the inevitable shoe to fall on his head, wondering how he could have keyed in 39 instead of 59.   Somehow I don't think a simple "My bad" will suffice.  

This is a happier solution for me than the only alternative I can conjure up: cyber terrorism.  Someone tried to blow up an SUV and half of Times Square on May Day, after all.  It's certainly within the realm of possibility that a bad guy hacked into a mainframe somewhere and tried some economic terrorism.  Perhaps this was a test run.  Perhaps not.  But I am happier with the typing mistake solution.  It helps me sleep at night.

We've seen a lot of evidence of the power of machines to wreak havoc with our financial system over the past year or two.  Given the ability to crunch the numbers, the quants were able to create investment vehicles which were arcane to the point of incomprehensibility.  All anyone really knew was that they were making money.  Lots and lots of money.  Until someone noticed that giving a $600,000 mortgage to a child care worker clearing $40,000 a year might lead her to default on that obligation.  Thus were born the credit default swaps, those bundled securities whose value Goldman Sachs is accused of betting against.  That is fodder for another post (stay tuned) but the basic premise is the same.  The machines really shouldn't be managing the store.  

Remember HAL?



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