For Mrs. Geek and me, one of the more charming stories of our wedding day relates to our two flower girls, A. and S. A. was refined and lady-like in her behavior. S. was a little spitfire who perpetually wanted to do and see everything. At more than one point, S. tried to involve A. in her activities. A. would have none of it. Finally, Mrs. Geek tried to reign in S. a little bit, at which time S. told her “She! will! not! play! with! me!”

There were times last week that I felt like saying that as well. Mrs. Geek and I were attending a “Fall Harvest” event put on by one of the wine clubs to which I belong on Saturday. This event generally involves a “blending competition” — people get together in teams of about six and create their own blended red wine from components provided by the club. Whoever makes the best blend gets a LARGE bottle of wine (and presumably, bragging rights for the next year.) It’s the sort of event that is best shared with friends, preferably friends who know something about wine.

After a less than stellar experience at this event two years ago (we missed last year because we were getting ready to move into our newly purchased house), we decided that we needed to invite friends and get up a team of our own this year. We first broached this subject with friends last May, after the wine club’s Spring Event. Everyone was happy to put this on the calendar back then, but that didn’t translate into actual attendance as the day approached. One couple (with small kids) could not arrange a babysitter. Another couple could not attend because the husband had some job-related responsibilities to take care of. The wife of a third couple, the people who got us involved with this wine club to begin with, said that they also could not attend because of job-related duties. It looked like we would be there all by our lonesome selves.

Fortunately, a second round of invitations panned out. M., one of Mrs. Geek’s cousins, turned out to be available. We hadn’t seen her in a while, and we carpooled to the event together. Two other friends, A. and B., also turned out to be eager to attend, once the nature of the event was explained to them. So, we had a blending team of at least five…. which was supplemented by two strangers, S. and N., once the competition started.

Good fun was had by all. M., A., and B. are all reasonably informed about wine… which made all the tasting and mixing a pleasure. Our blend lost, miserably. That didn’t matter much though… winning the competition one of these years would be a wonderful thing, but for me, this is one of those things that’s “not what you do, but who you do it with”. Our team was great fun this year.

maybe we deserve to burn in Hell

I’m trying to make sense of the today’s news headline: House to Wall Street: Drop Dead. The bailout was opposed by ideologue free market Republicans who can’t seem to envision any circumstance in which the government should bail out the business community four weeks before an election. It was also opposed by ideologue Democrats who couldn’t see giving government money to a bunch of rich, greedy, Wall Street fat cats four weeks before an election. Finally, the whole thing is opposed by a strong majority of the tax paying public for reasons to myriad and complex to fully digest. This from the same public that complacently watched as the President and Congress have continued a war for six years that will probably in total cost something like 3 trillion dollars in the last six years without much more than a whimper.

I begin to wonder if the people of this country don’t need a hard, bitter dose of reality. We’ve lived too long on borrowed time and borrowed money, in our little cars and housing development enclaves, thinking that the American Dream is still strong and will be served to us like those cars you see the kids get on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16. Shall we have double digit unemployment for the second time during my lifetime? Shall the banks fail? Shall we all lose our retirement benefits?

I hope it doesn’t all come to pass, but maybe we deserve to burn in Hell for a while. We’re all guilty of thinking far more about what we think we deserve than what we can actually do… much less what we need. Whether today was a moment for heroes or fools, I think history will have to decide. I do know this, tomorrow will be probably different for me than today… and not in a good way.

The Dow is down almost 800. Shit. We are cursed with interesting times today.

the Great Depression?

I was at the gym this morning talking to some of the guys I usually see there. The conversation inevitably turned to money and the economy. One guy said “Well, I never thought I would know what it felt like when the Great Depression was starting.” I sort of silently nodded at the time, but the import of those words is starting to hit me, several hours later.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that the “Great Depression II” is starting. The guy who said that didn’t mean that either. It could have happened this week though. If the U.S. economy is an automobile engine, it came damn close to throwing a rod and seizing up entirely. Thankfully, we don’t live in the age of Herbert Hoover anymore. Financial technocrats and economists control the big levers on the economy, and there isn’t any delusion that “the markets will sort this out.” Nope, Mssrs. Paulson and Bernecke know that it’s time to take a hammer to the “break glass in case of emergency” window and hit the Big Red Button. Financial 9/11. What is it about our national karma and the month of September?

If you had told me in 2000 that I would experience the modern equivalent of “Black Tuesday” and “Pearl Harbor” in next 8 years, I would have said “you’re daft!” How did we let greed spiral so far out of control? I recall reading histories about the causes of the Great Depression — the debt pyramid that overtook the country, the out of control speculation in the stock market, and the lax oversight philosophy in Washington. I look around and we’ve let some weird caricature of that situation happen all over again… almost.

There’s that old curse “May you live in interesting times.” We are cursed indeed.

the fundamentals of our economy

I read recently that Presidential candidate John McCain said “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.”

Let’s review the events of the last week, shall we? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (who Sarah Palin initially said have “gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers”, as if it was yet another example of a wasteful government bureaucracy) were bailed out by the Treasury Department. Washington Mutual, a medium-to-large bank, is thought to be on shaky ground, though it has rebuffed offers of purchase by other banks. Lehman Brothers, a venerable investment bank with a history of over a century, went under because the Treasury Department opted not to bail it out. Bank Of America is buying Merrill Lynch, because it was teetering on the brink. Finally, I see that the Treasury Department is loaning money to American Insurance Group (AIG), one of nation’s largest insurers, to keep it afloat.

And oh yes, unemployment is up, and consumer confidence is down. I’m not even going to mention the part where surveys show that over a third of homeowners in this country currently owe more on their mortgage than their house is probably worth.

I’m sorry there, Mr. McCain. I know that as soon as you say the word “Recession”, you may as well plan your concession speech. I can’t but think that your economic ideas are pretty much in line with those of Herbert Hoover. I’m feeling about a few hops and a skip from seeing bread lines on the street. More Hoovervilles we don’t need.

the favorite “lttle d” democrat

I think I’m going to have study up on Harry Truman. Maybe, I’ll read David McCullough’s biography, Truman. Or maybe I’ll watch the PBS American Experience biography.

Why? Harry Truman seems to be much upon the minds of many these days. The Current Occupant-In-Chief fancies himself like Truman because Truman’s popularity ratings were low due to a stand on a war abroad that no one liked. I think Sarah Palin fancies herself like Truman because he was a “common man” from a small town. I also read a newspaper piece recently where a voter in small town America yearned for a President like Harry Truman because he was the last one with a high school education.

I’m sure that Harry Truman was, in many ways, an “ordinary joe”. I think someone once commented (in regard to Truman) shortly after FDR died that “after too much champagne and caviar, it’s good to get back to steak and eggs.” Yet, that can’t be the whole story.

I get the feeling that though Harry Truman was of limited education, he was not of limited intellect or experience. Yes, he only went to high school… but he’d read every book in the local public library by the time he’d graduated. He’d been a soldier in France during World War I. He’d been a small businessman, and a politician on the state and local level for nearly 20 years before he became Vice President. He knew how to be bold, and when to apply common sense. Yes, he was unpopular due to a war… but it was partly due to the fact that he would not widen the war, or pursue the nuclear option.

So, to say that Sarah Palin or the Current Occupant are like Harry Truman… well, I think that seems more like wishful thinking than actual fact.

iPhone karma

First, I have some old news. Mrs. Geek and I got 8GB 3G iPhones last month. It was a real headache. We went to the AT&T store and waited for 45 minutes, only to be told that they didn’t have any in stock. We then decided to try a nearby Apple store, only to be told that they and the nearby partner store were both out of iPhones. So, we had dinner and then went back to the AT&T store, where we ordered phones, got a Company O. employee discount on the phone service, and waited about a week for them to come in.

Now that we have that out of the way, let me get to the real news:

I got an incredible helping of iPhone karma today. I got a free upgrade to a 16GB iPhone from an 8GB iPhone! It began last night, as I was plugging my iPhone in to charge. The ringer/mute switch on the side of the phone popped off. As Mrs. Geek and I were out and about today, we decided to stop by an Apple store, using the web browser on the iPhone to set up the Genius Bar appointment on the way. When we got there, the Genius Bar guy exchanged my old phone for a new one, no problem. I thought I was only getting another 8GB phone. Therefore, I was much surprised to see that I had a 16GB phone when I sync-ed my phone with iTunes 8 when I got home.

At this point, I had an ethical quandry. Do I return the phone and report the error? Strictly speaking, this is the honest thing to do. On the other hand, the process to replace the iPhone at the Genius Bar involved about four different steps during which the capacity of the unit being given to me was shown to the employee helping me. If the bank makes an error in your favor, that’s their problem after 30 days by law — they can’t ask you for the money back. Part of me sort of viewed the replacement process the same way… if, after all this procedure, why shouldn’t I reap the benefits of a series of their mistakes? In the end, I asked Mrs. Geek and I asked my parents. They all said “take it back to the Apple Store”. I ultimately agreed. It’s not like I was going to end up any worse at the end of the day than when I started.

So, Mrs. Geek and I went back to the Apple store Genius Bar. Three people were working the counter: the supervisor, a young woman, and a young African-American man. After waiting for about 15 minutes, the woman ended up helping me. I started by saying “I was in here earlier and had my iPhone replaced.” Her face started to fall, concerned that some sort of complex problem was about to unfold. “I came in with an 8GB iPhone” I continued, “and you replaced it with a 16GB phone. I just want make sure you are OK with that.” I then handed over my receipt for the replacement. Concern immediately gave way to genuine puzzlement… or panic, because someone really screwed up. She consulted the supervisor, who then poked around in the computer for a couple minutes. He then gave me back the 16GB phone, saying that the account and warranty had been transferred, and I’ve got a 16GB phone now.

The supervisor then asked “Who helped you earlier today?” I said “I had an appointment at X o’clock this afternoon, and was helped by a younger caucasian man with really short hair.” “And a sort of a goatee?” he countered. “Yes” I said. Mrs. Geek meanwhile started cracking up because the woman and the African American man behind the counter fist pumped and almost started to dance — it wasn’t possible for either of them to have screwed up. I said “I hope I’m not getting anyone in trouble.” The supervisor said “No, you’ve given me feedback… that’s good… and that will be passed along. You’ve also saved me from a big inventory headache that I was about to have.”

The African American man then looked at me and said “You’re a very honest man.” Mrs. Geek then added “Well, we’re in need of all the good karma we can get right now.” Everyone at the Genius Bar wished us lots of good karma, and we left.

How much good karma did we get? Well, I figure (as Mrs. Geek kindly pointed out) it’s got to be at least 8GB worth.

dissertatus interruptus

Thought I was granted a Doctor of Philosophy some 8 years ago last month, I still have one piece of dissertation business left to finish: I never got bound copies made for myself or my committee. It is tradition, you see, at my Grad School of Choice for the successful Ph.D. candidate to provide bound copies of the dissertation in question to his defense committee. Plus, she also usually gets one for herself. I never did get anything for anybody. It’s a little murky at this point about why — I think I was under the impression at the time that I had ordered some copies made when I sent in the copyright registration in to Bell & Howell (the microfiche people)… or was it the University of Michigan? In any case, I had to find a job and move, pronto… as I was dead broke. I also had photocopies of the cover sheets signed by my committee that went AWOL for a few years (they were really in the back of a filing cabinet drawer.)

Well, no more. I found the cover sheets at the beginning of the summer, and I decided that it is finally time to scratch this item off the list. I bought a ream of 100% cotton fiber, acid-free, archival paper, and made four double-sided copies of my dissertation. I just sent them off to a book binder in Norfolk, VA this morning to be bound. (I would have preferred a snazzier outfit in Texas, but they only took electronic copies… and I needed those signed paper copies to be bound. *sigh*) If all goes well, I should have four bound books (three of which I will give away) in my possession in about a month.

This one has been the oldest item on my “to do” list that I don’t know what the next oldest item is… there is that Christmas gift for a friend of mine from last December that’s still sitting on top of the inkjet printer in the office (*sigh* long story). Maybe I’ll get around to delivering that.