Archive for February, 2012

The Bucks Don’t Stop

February 29th, 2012

Lo the, if you pardon the expression, poor executives and financial-industry professionals. Articles in the FT, WSJ and the other usual suspects bemoan the diminished bonuses to these greater mortals.

Bloomberg, for example, puts a sad tale near the top. A broker/dealer’s marketing director is suddenly impoverished when he is held to his $350,000 income. That pathetic amount “doesn’t cover his family’s private-school tuition, a Kent, Connecticut, summer rental and the upgrade they would like from their 1,200-square- foot Brooklyn duplex.” He says (perhaps whimpers), “The New York that I wanted to have is still just beyond my reach.”

We must suppose that his own private school and Ivy U. didn’t teach money management. Likely they never insulted their students hinting they would need it. It is a bit peculiar though that his financial biz hadn’t impart that expertise, at least by osmosis.

Those downgraded from millions to hundreds of thousands in take-home say they have to look at prices of things, even groceries.

At the core of these reports though are some reasons. Trading volumes are down, eurozone is in turmoil, recovery lags, and there are fewer deals being made. Those latter were where big shops skimmed off enough millions to slather bonuses on everyone’s baguettes and croissants. The FT reports (may require free registration for limited number of reads) that the seven biggest financial houses average 22% less income last year.

Banks have been increasing salaries to stay clean by limiting reliance on one-time bonuses (the stuff risk comprises). To get the ROI they want, they are also having to fire people as well as restructure compensation. To ordinary mortals, the amounts are still breathtaking, but for the bankers they suddenly can no longer anticipate increased growth bringing in those handy millions.

If you’ve paid attention to investment bankers and their ilk, you know that the wail you will hear the most is that paying in the low millions instead of tens of millions and up will crush them. The mythical best and brightest will go elsewhere and somehow it is America, America as a nation, I say, that will suffer.

Don’t buy that for an instant.

Decades ago when a bunch of us were writing for Inc. magazine, a conservative and raised-in-privilege-with-a-banker-father cohort scoffed at such claims. He held the overcompensation was simply theft from the shareholders. Among his evidence was his MBA thesis, which analyzed performance of numerous companies and concluded that the average U.S. corporation would be, in his words, “managed better by an oak tree” than its top team. That is, if the board put corporate cash into index funds and tracked the markets, the return would be higher than what their overpaid twits could do.

The cant and rant continue even though numerous observers have found similar disappointing underperformance if not outright incompetence. Like professional sports teams, corporate boards seem terrified of not overpaying to get “championship” personnel. Teams though are unlike financial houses in turning out or trading their losers…as well as admitting they exist.

At this point, banks, other financial houses and corporations are likely locked into this dreadful whirlpool, spinning and spinning. Unless a couple of big ones admit the oak-tree finding, they are almost certain as a group to  overpay their alleged stars drastically. If some deal works, they’ll swear the blustering boys and girls are magic. If bad to terrible things happen, as we all know too well they do, that’s the nature of the business and no blame follows.

The guys at the top, both the outlandishly paid front-folk and the cowardly board members, aren’t about to call the game on anyone.

Well, Obviously, Harrumph! is Back

February 28th, 2012

GDlogoHair on fire. Apology on tap.

After five days, this blog is back up. I regret all who got database connection errors in that period. I did too. Most hits here come from Google and other search engine operations. So, if you were clicking around for something, I hope you found it elsewhere.

Logo note: The problems and solution came from GoDaddy. I claim fair use of its surely copyrighted and/or trademarked logo.

For the curious, the outage came in a server migration. I’ll be upgrading WordPress now. I could not before for some convoluted set of reasons whereby my old GD servers could not upgrade to the MySQL versions that WP and other modern apps require.

After telling me on and on for two years they couldn’t help unless I closed the account and reopened it, they announced thaty they could when I called again last week. Yet, it did require new technologies on new servers, saving off everything, shutting it down, and waiting up to four days for the GD IT fairies to work their magic.

I was away for the weekend, so that seemed OK. Yet it turned out that wasn’t quite the case. All of the GD tech are pleasant and most know a lot. It was the small seams that caused the garment to come apart.

After GD saved the DB with five years of blog content, a tech directed me to copy the whole server content to my HD…just in case. He assured me that almost certainly, the automated migration would restore the works. I just had to call in a day to put in the order for the new 4GH server transfer.

I did call in, only to hear, curiously, that the order was in and in a couple of days, all would be as it was on the new technology. As these things tend to go, that didn’t happen. I returned to see messages by URL that there was no database connection or by IP addresss to the new server that there was no database at all.

Turns out, the latter was correct. The third nice tech apparently does this transfer regularly. She told me correctly that I needed to follow three separate intricate, but well documented procedures, which she sent me by email. I had to create, restore and configure the DB manually with GD tools online. Where were my fairies?

This was the proverbial blind men and elephant in that each tech was savvy about parts of it. I didn’t get the big picture and real set of procedures until the third tech.

Far, far worse things happen in the computer and internet worlds.

Tyranny of Impulse

February 23rd, 2012

Like full-grown house cats or kindergarten-aged kids running across the street, impulses are OK…until suddenly they aren’t. Mammals of all types trust their whims, often ducking their heads and looking to the odds and to their previous experience.  Then, blam!

Think of the streets. In many places, certainly the Boston area, we feign obliviousness as we walk between crosswalks, against lights, after sunset wearing dark clothes, pushing our wee ones in strollers from between parked cars, and such. This is beyond depending on the kindness (and alertness) of strangers.

For vehicles, the wheezing cliché is that cyclists are the danger to the rest of us. Maiming and death stats say otherwise. The 3,000 and 4,000-pound motorized weapons of metal and plastic have other humans aiming them. Many of those are distracted any given moment by punching characters into or talking with cell phones in hand. They can neither pay attention nor are inclined to do so. Less than a second of the fantasy of multitasking can be the end of one for more other humans.

Our primitive impulses are often more fraught than ditzy inattention. Consider blowing through stop signs. You add a little intellectual context, as in it’s an uncrowded area, then let the impulse rule. It’s giving control to that lizard brain or the pubescent who still lives inside us.

Nearly always, it works. There’s no one with the right of way coming and no cop with a ticket book looking.

Of course, we’re either real sorry or accusatory when it’s maiming, death or fines. You were swatting a bee in the car, you just didn’t see the sign, you certainly did stop and look both ways, the other driver was speeding and came out of nowhere…

We really do not have the internal wiring to admit how lame and ill-advising our impulses often are. That likely would be denying our obvious brilliance and morality, eh? No matter how many times we’ve goofed up, we keep trusting the feelings.

The solution is the obvious. Throttle the impulse. Save it for performance art. Won’t you think of the children (and everyone else in your world)?

Probably not.


Whitney Whitewash

February 22nd, 2012

No escape hatch to hide from Whitney Houston’s corpse and claque… We were positively British in our ghoulish celebrity tracking of her death, funeral and alleged celebrations of her life and career.

Honest to God, what was the live stream of her service on the net and TV?!

Yeah, yeah, there were time when she was a very good singer and times when she was great. She had long and publicly ruined all but the remaining recordings and archives shows. Say it with me, she was addicted to alcohol and other drugs, she lived the self-indulgent melodrama of the very wealthy and famous. Few anywhere have noted that many ordinary folk are likewise swirling the drain.

A fairer view of her decline and demise comes from Maer Roshan. His piece on her addictions and fatal spiral down appeared in The Fix and replayed in Salon. The tens of thousands, likely millions, of words and glam pix of Houston were largely devoid of the real and powerful message of her addictive mind and actions. Talk about teachable moments ignored!

Among his salient observations, Roshan wrote:

Even though decades of research proves addiction is a condition with complicated genetic and chemical roots, far too many journalists continue to see it as a sort of moral weakness. Their failure to actively report on the issue represents both a lack of initiative and funding. After all, covering Whitney’s last moments is a lot easier (and less expensive) than going up against the wrath of formidable lawyers and lobbyists employed by corrupt pharmaceutical behemoths. It’s also a lot more comfortable than venturing into the ravaged small towns of Iowa and Montana to witness firsthand the devastation wrought by poverty and crystal meth.

He notes the reasonable estimate of 22 million addicted Americans. Sure, everyone who dies youngish is a sad story. Sure, we overly identify with good looking celebs. Sure, de mortuis nil nisi bonum. Yet rather than attending the prolonged play at the Theatre of the Magnificent Dead, we could dig into how someone with so much and so many advantages could succumb. There are lessons and possible prevention for us lesser mortals.

1870 Fairmount Rumble

February 19th, 2012

agwMy hill in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood has had its moments. When we moved on Fairmount Hill over two years ago, we figured it looked like just another undistinguished almost-suburban area. Heaven knows the few plaques (at the bottom of the hill, thank you very much) say little and nothing political. However, we did learn that the Grimké sisters, Sarah and Angelina, lived here. Angelina (right) with her husband, Rev. Theodore Weld, and Sarah next door.

Their houses are gone. While Victorian homes of the period are on the block, modest brick two-story ones (and no plaque) are there now. Maybe the UUA will chip in. They like to claim Weld, and in truth, at least late in life, he and Angelina did become Unitarians.

I already cited their abolition and women’s suffrage work. There is a a link also to the tale including the mixed race Grimké brothers Archibald and Francis whom the sisters supported, saw educated and helped into starting successful careers as a lawyer and diplomat and a preacher. That was the good side of do-gooder guilt, a.k.a. social activism. The sisters discovered that their brother who remained in South Carolina has fathered the boys by their enslaved mother. Nothing like blood to bring anti-slavery sentiments full circle.

The brothers Grimké and one’s daughter, likely American’s first published lesbian poet as well as activist in the family mode, Angelina Weld Grimké all spent time on this hill. For Weld and the sisters, it was a base of operation to correct the wrongs of slavery and suppression of women. I like to think that if there are such things as spirits, those of the several generations of these remarkable people hum and inspire here still.

Over at Marry in Massachusetts, I just added a wee rant on what may befall the creeps and crazies throttling women in November. We can extrapolate pretty easily as to what Sarah and both Angelinas would make of the current GOP boys’ policies. Plus, now they’d have a vote to do something in addition to writing and talking.

MA Election-Day Tricks

February 16th, 2012

Getting my warden training for working the polls in Boston for the March 6th primary, I’m glad the turnout will likely we wee. I normally hope and advocate for lots of voters, even though it’s more work for elections folk. This time though, oddments are going to force explanations to voters and poll workers alike.

Worst, consider that voters have a single shot at requesting a ballot. A majority are unenrolled. In these party-based primaries, that means each one will have to choose a single ballot from, this time, Democrat, Republican or Green-Rainbow. What could be so simple, eh?

There shall be gnashing of teeth and mutterings of offense. Consider:

  • Unenrolled voters typically proclaim they are independent. Not only is there no such designation in MA, but not belonging to any party does not give them the right to a single ballot of all the candidates of all parties on it. Year after year, primary after primary, people don’t understand that and get pretty belligerent.
  • Everybody gets one ballot for just one of the parties. If you are registered in one of the three this time, you must take the ballot for that party. Yesterday was the last day to change party affiliation or switch to unenrolled. No one in elections, at the poll or City Hall or the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, can let you change on election day. Live it or live with it
  • At the check-in table, poll workers use the voter list book, which has the party affiliation. They will mark in the book for each unenrolled voter which ballot was requested.
  • We have to mark this choice in red ink. Once you choose, that’s that. Even seconds later, you can’t get a different party ballot. Live it or live with it.
  • Choosing a party ballot for a primary does not, does not, does not change your party registration if you are unenrolled. Downtown at Elections, worker bees go through the check-in/check-out books and record party votes for data gathering. Unenrolled voters don’t have to do anything to retain their status for future elections of any type. Only if they want to register with a party do they fill in a new voter registration form to do this. We will explain this hundreds of times on March 6th and each future primary election. Older voters remember many years ago when you would have to re-register as unenrolled after a primary.
  • Yes, the letter for the Green-Rainbow party is J. Sure, D is Democrat and R Republican, but G had already been reserved for the Green Party USA, and remains so even when they are not on the ballot. J was the next free acceptable letter.

Another oddment that voters don’t know yet is that the September primary election will almost certainly not be on the logical second Tuesday. Because Labor Day is the previous week and many travel before or even during that time, the second Tuesday is the normal one. However, this year, it would be 9/11, a date fraught with history and emotion.

We heard yesterday that Secretary William Galvin thinks voting on that anniversary would be inappropriate. Our trainer disagrees. He believes the patriotism roused on that day would inspire better turnout. He, however, was resigned.

Parity, Parody, Identity

February 15th, 2012

Wasn’t it the Brits who muttered their wait to sports fairness standards? How did we Americans become so team-parity obsessed?

As a boomer, I grew up with a few great teams in various sports drubbing the feebs. It really did work. It really did fit American history and ideals. Yankees, Celtics, Cowboys, Lakers, Canadians, Packers and a small set of sports bullies were the top. It was as Willy S’s Cassius had it:

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable grav

Instead, along the path of sports entertainment, the oligopolies and monopolies permitted by law as well as custom could not have that in the mundo world of advertising and broadcasting contracts. With millions to hundreds of millions of dollars looking for pockets, parity became the watchword. With artificial and intrusive aid, the very worst teams in a league were supposed to be pretty damned close to the very best.  That resulted from business decisions, what would maximize the advertising and broadcasting cash flow. To hell with excitement and ideals!

Unlike the American cultural norms boomers heard from their WWII parents, survival of the fittest became everybody has a chance to be the winner. We saw that creeping pseudo-equality, feel-good artifices starting for us in the 1980s. Our first son went to the hippy-dippy Beacon Hill Nursery School and then played Little League on the Hill against other downtown teams. He was a member of the league championship team. What that really meant is that they always had at least one superior pitcher. That was by far the single victory margin…game, after game, after game. By the time second and third sons were playing soccer, the parity factor was in total control.

It was not at all like real life of business or even a decent college. There, brutal unfairness was the norm. Boss’ child? Fellow alumnus? Sorority sister? Trivial controlled the real.

In the 90s and beyond, on school and kid-sports levels, it mirrored the professional athletic world. With no intent to disparage the developmentally disabled, we can note that the aptest comparison is special Olympics. Everyone’s a winner. Everyone’s a medalist. We, as my eldest parroted his nursery school mates, have the same.

It was more elaborate and rigid in professional sports. Artificial mechanisms like salary caps, luxury taxes, and most heavy handed, player drafts that gave the teams with the worst records first pick of the college and high-school grads are now the norm. There was no attempt to disguise the aim. Even the poorest teams in the smallest markets were supposed to have what is euphemistically called a level playing field.

Back to the thrilling days of post-WWII America (for me) and earlier for my parents and grandparents’ generations, the best teams really did seem like dynasties. Lesser teams and their fans rejoiced if they beat one of the big kids. On those rare years when the traditional champions were not in the playoffs, there was Cinderella magic on the radio, TV, in the newspapers and surely in public conversation. There was that American set of ideasl of aspiration, of bettering oneself, of coming from low to climb high.You know,  success through work and talent.

Now the best are severely punished. How dare they show up the petty men?

Maybe it was in part because I moved ever few years as a child. I would glom onto winning teams. Then I was a fan. My mother’s family came from the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia, with no professional sports, but close enough to D.C., Baltimore and with a stretch, Pittsburgh. Instead of those cities’ teams, I had the freedom of the nomad in picking my heroes, my champions. As a young’un, I’d stand up to my uncles, great-uncles and such with their fandom of the Orioles, Pirates, Senators, and Steelers and such. I’d recite the glories and stats of the Yankees, of Y.A. Tittle’s Giants and such. I was a sports slut, one who loved winners.

Those picnic debates no longer work. Not only are my great-uncles dead, but plastic parity humbles the mighty. It also robs the athletes and fans of both dreams and pride. Like the Japanese cliché that the nail that stands up will be pounded down, the parity police either did not know or lost the ideals of American culture, literature, theater, movies and television. We were a nation whose people won in the end despite shortcomings, being outnumbered, and without expectations of victory. Any American could succeed with determination, some luck, and relentless optimism.

We lost that and are poorer for it. We have the same.

Helping and Harming a Transgender Child

February 2nd, 2012

I’m tempted to call it the magic headband. From the day the 8-year-old transgender student wore it to class, there was a transformation. The angry, screaming child who would flip over desks suddenly became a happy scholar.

Who could find problems with that?

ID note: To respect the privacy of all involved as this unfolds, this identifies the child only by first name, does not reveal the locale or school, and cites the grandmother as GM and mother as Mommy.

Source note: My j-school/newspaper background normally has me going to multiple sources. This draws almost entirely on the candid conversation with GM. Future updates may include lawyers, the therapist, the principal or others, but there’s plenty in the experiences from her view.

The principal of the school was among those who has not yet learned to deal with John presenting as Jen. In particular, she’d like Mommy and GM to punish Jen for using the girls restroom and apparently claims Jen will do so “over my dead body.” Unfortunately, in New Hampshire, the legislature rejected the bill that would add legal protections to transgender children and adults. The other New England states prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Acknowledged transgender is not common. Estimates run from 3% down to a quarter of 1%. Yet it’s real when it’s real, and denial, anger and other irrational responses help no one and change nothing.

Revealing Jen

This child’s background is not so simple as many of our lives and goes far below gender identity. For starters, a single mom with a daughter found out and met the brother and sister five and three year olds who had been in foster care for years. She decided to bring them into her home and begin the adoption process.

That’s remarkable enough. In what would have dissuaded most prospective parents, the boy, John, was deemed severely autistic, low verbal, prone to outbreaks, and not toilet trained at five. GM reports that her daughter asked her, “Do you think I can do this?” She replied, “If anyone can do this, you can.”

The adoption took a year, but two years ago, the pair legally came to Mommy. He had already been toilet trained as soon as they came into the home, as GM put it, “in two weeks…with love.” He was still unhappy but quickly more verbal. GM notes that both children had arrived gaunt and pale. Even their skin color changed, to the point where the doctor’s office didn’t recognize them.

There was no tension with the existing daughter. She was fine with a sister, but in particular had always wanted a brother.

The wrinkle was in the boy’s fondness for things frilly. He liked to dress up in girls’ clothes. Mommy and GM quickly became aware this was not transvestism. Rather, he said he was a girl.

They took him to a therapist, who asked among other questions, “Have you always felt like a girl?” John replied, “No, I’ve always been a girl.”

While Mommy and GM are quick to point out they just love the children and want to do what’s best for them, let us note their wisdom and equanimity as well. They did not flip out, did not scream at or hit John, did not do the gender-identity version of trying to convert a lefthander, and did not demand that he live double school/home lives.

Starting wearing dresses at home and being very saddened by having to wear a boy’s suit for his adoption ceremony, John left no doubt about identity. Willing to present as a girl at school, as Jen, meant simultaneously being honest and risking what came from classmates and teachers.

Trouble from Above

Both Jen and her sister are shorter and slighter than many peers, but neither lacks courage. Jen has retained and expanded her friends, says GM, who noted with pride the attitude of the younger sister to the few students who would taunt on the playground. “She protects Jen. She’ll get right between her and children on the playground. She’ll say, ‘Don’t call her a boy. That’s my sister.'”

Jen insisted on going to school in dresses. The therapist supported this and told Jen to use the girls room when no one else was there. Mommy and GM met with teachers and the principal several times to let them know what would happen. The principal even met with Jen in her office to prepare.

Then the letter arrived. It seems one parent had complained about Jen using the girls room. “The school was going to pursue legal action if (Mommy) didn’t punish her for this,” said GM. “Plus, they were going to follow her around school.” GM and Mommy weren’t about to punish Jen or accept separate and unequal treatment.

Jen had gone from a problem child to a student of the month. She loved school and had lots of friends. Now, said GM, “Jen came home crying saying she can’t use the bathroom, ‘because I’m making them uncomfortable.'”

In the closest thing the school came to trying a compromise, the principal said Jen would have to use the nurse’s office restroom. While GM and Mommy heard this and thought they could frame it as their idea and something special. Unfortunately, the principal presented this as a mandate to Jen before letting them know what was up. Thus, Jen felt punished and tried to go the dayswithout using any restroom.

More to Be Done

Jen loves school, but short-term, she’s not there. Until arrangements are in place and there is a clear understanding, she’s being home schooled. Oddly GM and Mommy had some experience with this years before in a previous school with the first daughter. She was diabetic and the school would not medicate her as needed for her health. They resolved that and got her back in.

Likewise, the aim her is to get Jen back in class with her friends, who GM says are fine with the transition. Meanwhile, GM and Mommy have been in contact with a GLAD lawyer as well as counterparts in two other states. The school will receive guidelines on how to deal with a transgender student.

GM seems singularly well organized and a formidable force. She and Mommy had also kept detailed records of the entire process, including all communications and meetings. They are more than willing to do their parts to make this work as smoothly and pleasantly as possible. They also have not stopped reading and speaking with people who understand they physical, psychological and legal aspects.

Their attitude includes that a transgender student going to school in a dress, “is not going to be the hardest thing she’ll go through.”

In fact, their surprise came when they had to confront their own related issue. First it was from the older daughter, the one who had always wanted a brother. As John transitioned to Jen, GM said, “She cried and said, ‘I’m losing my brother!’ That’s when we realized we were losing him too.” All had known John as he joined them and blossomed from the sad, autistic boy they first new into the happy Jen who loves school and is popular. “We’ve had to grieve John, ” said GM. “John no longer exists.”

Instead, Jen is ready to get on with her life. Mommy will see that her name is changed legally. Moreover, at this point it seems that sexual reassignment surgery is somewhere in the more distant future.

While Jen was initially unclear on genital anatomy, she knew she had a penis. When Mommy explained how girls and boys differed, Jen said, “Mommy, why do I have to wait? Can’t you just cut off my penis, so people will like me?”

For those who would say such things as homosexuality is a lifestyle or in this case transgender is a choice that weird adults make, let us consider the reality of the latter with Jen. She is a child who has known early on what her true gender is. She hurts no one and wants to get on with her life and to develop as any child. Her grandmother, mother and sisters will do their part. It is a small enough thing to expect everyone else to let her go about that life.

Cross-post: This appears also at Marry in Massachusetts.

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