Sunday, November 30, 2008

What if?

What if instead of being the social and industrial leaders of the world,
the U.S. was a nation of greedy, self-indulgent gluttons
who were determined to maintain a ridiculous standard of living
at the expense of the planet’s other inhabitants?

What if we were a nation of arrogant opportunists
who plundered the earth’s natural resources
from less fortunate people with no regard for their welfare?

What if we behaved like irresponsible social adolescents
who kept borrowing air, water, food and energy for today’s gratification
from tomorrow’s finite supply?

The world is fortunate we’re not like that.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bailout for whom?

I have a scary feeling about Treasury Secretary Paulson. We, the people of the United States, gave him a blank check for $700,000,000,000.00, and he’s burning through it like a fire in a sawmill. That’s three-quarters of a trillion dollars – about $2300 for every man, woman and child in the country. I can’t even imagine how much money that is.

This is a man who, like his boss, has gotten just about everything wrong. He didn’t recognize the bursting of the housing bubble and, when he did finally see it, thought its impact would be minor. He didn't see a problem with letting Lehman Brothers fail. And he thought that the failing Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) was a terrific plan.

As of last week, $290 billion of the first $350 billion has been allocated, and it hasn't accomplished much of anything. Paulson gave $250 billion of our money to the reckless banks that got us into this mess in the first place without even bothering to set any real conditions on how they spent it. Most of it seems to have gone to bonuses, dividends, salaries and mergers. And we don’t really know what we got for collateral because no one knows if the “distressed assets” are worth the paper they’re printed on.

He gave another $40 billion to AIG so they could continue their corporate spending spree, but he doesn’t want to do anything about rapidly rising mortgage foreclosure rates or personal bankruptcies. He doesn’t want to help the floundering auto industry. He claims that he doesn’t have the legal authority to use the money appropriated for TARP for anything else.

This is a typical Bush Administration dodge. Paulson got a virtual blank check, and that is pretty much how he has used it. If you remember, the terms were that he couldn’t be “challenged by any arm of government or any court of law.” He has already bailed out a wide range of non-bank institutions with no oversight or accountability.

The Bush Administration has claimed unlimited powers in a wide range of areas, from the conduct of war to holding of prisoners without charges or trial. Now it’s claiming that it must follow the rules about saving the economy.

The only thing Paulson and his fellow bank robbers are sure of is that they’re taking care of their own as they ride out of town.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Quote of the Week

New York Congressman Gary Ackerman said this to the chief executive officers of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors at a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee this week:

"There is a delicious irony in seeing private luxury jets flying into Washington, DC; and people coming off of them with tin cups in their hand saying that they're going to be trimming down and streamlining their businesses. It's almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high hat and tuxedo.

Couldn't you all have downgraded to first class or jet-pooled or something to get here? It would have at least sent a message that you do get it."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ira Frost – woodcarver extraordinaire

It’s difficult to describe Ira Frost’s bird carvings without resorting to superlatives. They’re simply the most lifelike woodcarvings I’ve ever seen.

The detail is exquisite, the painting meticulous and the craftsmanship outstanding; but that’s not what makes them so realistic. It’s the design and gesture of his pieces that really makes them come to life.

Ira starts with sketches to capture the gesture and then creates a final design. He transfers that design onto tupelo wood and carves the general body shape. He then uses special tools to create the extremely fine detail. Wing and tail feathers are often individually applied, paper-thin pieces of wood. He further enhances the carving by wood-burning feather texture into the wood.

He then uses his superb painting skills to accurately render the bird's plumage in acrylic paint. The final sculpture is mounted in a natural setting with hand-crafted leaves, twigs, grass, flowers and even insects crafted from wood, brass and other materials.

Ira is completely self-taught. He has studied bird mounts at the Harvard Museum, collected hundreds of photographs, spent countless hours observing birds in the wild and read numerous reference books on bird anatomy and behavior. He also worked with a bird bander to handle live birds and even took a bird taxidermy course at the New Hampshire Audubon Society.

In addition to being a phenomenal artist, Ira is also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. He recently took on a protégé and partner, Shane Emery, whom Ira is training to follow in his footsteps.

Ira’s website is now on-line. If you’re familiar with his work, you’ll be pleased to see some of his beautiful birds again. If not, prepare to be amazed.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Chocolate Eclairs

The only deliveries that come to our house these days, come by UPS. When I was a boy, many things were delivered to our house.

The milkman delivered our milk. Every other morning before six o’clock, he parked his milk truck at the end of the driveway, walked right into the kitchen and checked the refrigerator to see how much milk, butter and cream we had left. He put in what we needed and took the empty bottles my mother left on the counter for him.

Coal for the furnace came in a big dump truck that backed in the driveway next to the house. My brother and I watched from the window as the driver hooked one end of the shiny metal slide onto the back of the truck and slid the other end in our cellar window. Then he tipped up the dump body, opened a metal gate and let the glistening black coal clatter down into our cellar coal bin.

The fish man came in a red pickup truck with a big white icebox in the back. When he opened the icebox door on a hot summer day, a cloud of steam drifted out. Inside, pieces of fish lay on crushed ice and a shiny scale hung from the roof. He weighed the fish, wrapped it in white paper and then wrote the price on the outside with a black grease pencil from his apron pocket.

At the farm across the field, they still used iceboxes to keep things cold. Twice a week, the iceman came in a truck with the word ICE written in big, snow-covered letters on the side. He pulled a block of ice out of the truck with heavy iron tongs and carried it into their back shed where he put it in an oak icebox. In the summer, he sometimes tossed us ice chips left from picking the big blocks into icebox-sized pieces.

But our favorite delivery was the Cushman bread man. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday around noon, he pulled his black and white panel truck into our driveway, took a big tray full of bread and pastries out of the back and carried it into our kitchen. If my two sisters, my brother and I had behaved, my mother let us pick out a box of cupcakes or cookies. Our special favorite, however, was chocolate éclairs.

Those éclairs were delicious. The pastry shell was crisp, the custard filling thick and creamy, and the rich chocolate frosting dark and sweet.

My mother was upstairs one day when the bread man arrived. We had just finished lunch, so my sisters, my brother and I ran up the back stairs and pleaded with her to let us get something for dessert. To our delight, she said yes.

The four of us piled noisily back down the stairs and looked in the bread man’s tray. There was a chocolate frosted cake with white frosting squiggles across the top, a sugar covered jelly roll, big round sugar cookies with chocolate centers, and several kinds of pie. Everything looked inviting through the cellophane windows in the brown and yellow Cushman boxes.

“No éclairs,” we gasped.

The bread man smiled and winked. “Let’s take a look in the truck. There just might be one box left.”

We followed him outside. He opened the back doors of his truck, and we peered inside. There were two tiers of shiny metal shelves. One was stacked with loaves of bread and the other with desserts. On one of the shelves, the bread man found a single box of éclairs.

He handed it to me. I examined the éclairs through the cellophane window. “I call the second from this end,” I shouted as I bolted for the kitchen door clutching the precious éclairs. My brother and sisters chased after me.

“No fair. You don’t get first pick,” my older sister, Karen, protested.

I ran inside and put the box on the kitchen table. Karen got there just as I was opening the cover. “I’m the oldest, so I get first pick,” she proclaimed.

My younger brother, Kelley, was right behind her. “I want first pick,” he exclaimed. Four year-old Krissie finally caught up with us. She could barely see the éclairs in the box. “I want one. I want one,” she chanted.

“I’m the oldest, so I get first pick,” Karen repeated as she pulled the box toward her. But I wasn’t giving in. I slid it back in front of me.

“He handed it to me, so I get first pick,” I replied.

Kelley pulled the box in his direction. “I want the one on the end.”

“No. I get first pick,” Karen asserted with finality as she pulled the box back in front of her.

“Who died and left you the big boss,” I protested, yanking the box back toward me.

“Yeah. Who made you the boss,” Kelley chimed in.

The sides were drawn. It was boys against girls.

I picked up the open box, but Karen grabbed it and tried to pull it out of my hands. I held on tight. My brother came to my aid and grabbed onto the cover.

“Mo-o-om!” Karen shrieked. “They’re hogging the éclairs.”

“Mo-o-om”, Krissie echoed.

“Give them to me,” Karen snapped.

“No. I had them first,” I shouted back. I wasn’t giving in without a fight.

“Krissie. Get Mom!” Karen ordered. “Now you’ll see. You guys won’t get any.”

Then as if on cue, Kelley and I stuck out our tongues and sprayed the open box of éclairs with saliva.

“OK, bossy. Have an éclair.” My brother sneered.

“You spit on them,” Karen howled. She let go of the box and slapped the bottom as hard as she could. Eclairs went flying everywhere.

“OK, now you have an éclair,” she taunted.

There was a long pause as we looked at the broken éclairs lying around us on the kitchen floor. Kelley and I began to giggle. We picked up pieces and pelted our older sister with them. She was soon spattered with custard and chocolate frosting. And she was outraged.

“Mo-o-o-om,” Karen screamed at the top of her lungs. When we heard our mother’s footsteps coming down the front stairs, my brother and I ran out the kitchen door, laughing with delight. We could still hear Karen shouting as the screen door slammed behind us, and we headed for the safety of the barn.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Photos that moved me

After posting the image of Obama and his family, I got to thinking about journalistic photos that moved me. So I went online to find the photos that I remember making a big impression on me. In some cases I couldn't find the exact photo, so I selected the closest image to it.

Here are some of them:

For some reason, I have always remembered this photo from Life magazine in 1958.

This isn't the exact photo of Baez and Dylan that I remember, but it looks like it might have been taken on the same day.

The Beatles' arrival in America marked the start of a new musical era.

A company that I worked for in the mid-sixties did a classified, frame-by-frame analysis of the Zapruder film. Those grisly images are unforgettable.

This photo still tugs at my heart.

Dr. King's face seemed full of fear on this march in Memphis a few days before his assasination in 1968.

More than any other, this photo turned me against the Vietnam War.

This photo left me broken-hearted.

By the end of Woodstock, flower-power was already wilting.

This photo still frightens me.

The triumph of power over hope.

I could never understand Nixon's gesture as he left the White House in disgrace.

This iconic image expressed the hope of all Red Sox fans.

A candid father and son photo that made a hero seem human to me.

This photo is frightening because you know what happened a few seconds later.

How about you? Use Google images to search for photos that moved you.

By the way, you can now leave comments. I accidentally disabled comments when I set up the blog.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Beginning

I experience this feeling each time I start a new journal -- excitement, anticipation and the need to write something meaningful.
I'm still caught up in the euphoria of witnessing one of the most historic events of my life. The image of President-elect Obama with his lovely wife and daughters holding hands in front of a cheering crowd of 150,000+ supporters will stick with me forever. A young family in the White House feels so prophetic of positive change.

It gives me hope for the end of greedy, frightened old men running our country into the ground. It gives me hope that there could be an environmentally, economically and politically secure future for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And I hope it gives me far less to rant about in this blog than I had in my journals.
I invite anyone reading this blog to respond. Monologues get boring to read and to write.