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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Watch out, Metro Detroit.

Eight confirmed cases of whooping cough.

Which is why my eldest is going to be tested today. Contrary to all previous experience, my bronchitis has spread, first to Heather, now to Maddie. Which, coupled with the nasty persistence of this bug (two weeks and counting), leads us to think that it isn't actually bronchitis.

The good news is that it's treated the same way--antibiotics. The bad news is that it's much more contagious and dangerous. Especially to the little ones. The kids are up on their immunizations, but I'm not clear that they have had pertussis shots yet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Okay, one more.

Happy St. Mary Magdalene Day to my eldest, Madeleine.

I think you're entitled to some of your Mom's dark chocolate stash today.


Big thanks to Terry for the reminder.

Just call me "lunger."

Bronchitis. Again. They think.

Tiresome, and I'm coughing like a clown's "ah-ooga" horn.

With that in mind, I'm just giving you a blog recommendation today: Surprised By Time. SBT is a blog by Diana G. Wright, a historian who specializes in the 15th Century Mediterranean. Lots of fascinating stuff there, including melancholy stories about Byzantium just before the lights went out forever.

Great stuff, and material you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else without mortgaging your house.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why the "stimulus" was a bust.

It wasn't a stimulus package. It was a spending orgy.

Actually, there was a lot I liked in the legislation, starting with the actual tangible infrastructure benefits. If you're going to run a deficit, have something to show for it at the end of the day. There was also the necessary assistance to those in crisis:

On humanitarian grounds, hardly anyone should object to parts of the stimulus package: longer and (slightly) higher unemployment benefits; subsidies for job losers to extend their health insurance; expanded food stamps. Obama was politically obligated to enact a campaign proposal providing tax cuts to most workers -- up to $400 for individuals and $800 for married couples. But beyond these basics, the stimulus plan became an orgy of politically appealing spending increases and tax breaks.

And, as has been noted, things like food stamps aren't just humanitarian, they are also an immediate boost to the economy as they get spent right away, and locally. Doing the right thing actually does the right thing for the economy.

The result:

More than 50 million retirees and veterans got $250 checks (cost: $14 billion). Businesses received liberalized depreciation allowances ($5 billion). Health-care information technology was promoted ($19 billion). High-speed rail was encouraged ($8 billion). Whatever the virtues of these programs, the effects are diluted and delayed. The CBO estimated that nearly 30 percent of the economic effects would occur after 2010. Ignored was any concerted effort to improve consumer and business confidence by resuscitating the most distressed economic sectors.

Vehicle sales are running 35 percent behind year-earlier levels; frightened consumers recoil from big-ticket purchases. Falling house prices deter home buying. Why buy today if the price will be lower tomorrow? States suffer from steep drops in tax revenue and face legal requirements to balance their budgets. This means raising taxes or cutting spending -- precisely the wrong steps in a severe slump. Yet the stimulus package barely addressed these problems.

To promote car sales and home buying, Congress could have provided temporary but generous tax breaks. It didn't. The housing tax credit applied to a fraction of first-time buyers; the car tax break permitted federal tax deductions for state sales and excise taxes on vehicle purchases. The effects are trivial. The recently signed "cash for clunkers" tax credit is similarly stunted; Macroeconomic Advisers estimates it might advance a mere 130,000 vehicle sales. States fared better. They received $135 billion in largely unfettered funds. But even with this money, economists at Goldman Sachs estimate that states face up to a $100 billion budget gap in the next year. Already, 28 states have increased taxes and 40 have reduced spending, reports the Office of Management and Budget.

There are growing demands for another Obama "stimulus" on the grounds that the first was too small. Wrong. The problem with the first stimulus was more its composition than its size. With budget deficits for 2009 and 2010 estimated by the CBO at $1.8 trillion and $1.4 trillion (respectively, 13 and 9.9 percent of gross domestic product), it's hard to argue they're too tiny. Obama and congressional Democrats sacrificed real economic stimulus to promote parochial political interests. Any new "stimulus" should be financed by culling some of the old.


Exactly--pullback the promised non-stimulating funds that haven't been provided and pour them into infrastructure construction now. It won't happen, but it would constitute an actual, you know, stimulus.

The lessons the administration should have learned from this outsized failure:

(1) Spending cash by the wheelbarrow doesn't equal Keynesianism, and

(2) Don't delegate your responsibilities to Harry and Nan, who are giants of political infighting but lilliputians when it comes to sustained thought beyond soundbites and Pavlovian reward/punish imperatives.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A flood of page views today...

But I have no clue from where. Not a Shea-valanche, nor a Millercane.

You all seem to want to hear about news from the kraken front, which is fine.

Well, if you're new here, welcome! I'll have a fisk going up later this weekend if you're interested in that sort of thing.

If you're not new, beer's in the fridge.

Hilary warned us. We wouldn't listen.

And now we pay the price for our arrogant blindness: The Invasion Has Begun.

The squid hunt in schools of up to 1,200, can swim up to 15 mph and can skim over the water to escape predators.

"I wouldn't go into the water with them for the same reason I wouldn't walk into a pride of lions on the Serengeti," said Mike Bear, a local diver. "For all I know, I'm missing the experience of a lifetime."

The squid are too deep to bother swimmers and surfers, but many longtime divers say they are staying out of the surf until the sea creatures clear out. Yet other divers, including Shanda Magill, couldn't resist the chance to see the squid up close.

On a recent night, Magill watched in awe as a dozen squid with doleful, expressive eyes circled her group, tapping and patting the divers and gently bumping them before dashing away.

One especially large squid suspended itself motionless in the water about three feet away and peered at her closely, its eyes rolling, before it vanished into the black. A shimmering incandescence rippled along its body, almost as if it were communicating through its skin.

But the next night, things were different: A large squid surprised Magill by hitting her from behind and grabbing at her with its arms, pulling her sideways in the water. The powerful creature ripped her buoyancy hose away from her chest and knocked away her light.

When Magill recovered, she didn't know which direction was up and at first couldn't find the hose to help her stay afloat as she surfaced. The squid was gone.

"I just kicked like crazy. The first thing you think of is, 'Oh my gosh, I don't know if I'm going to survive this. If that squid wanted to hurt me, it would have," she said.

Other divers have reported squid pulling at their masks and gear and roughing them up.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I'm suffering from the sin of envy.

Jay Anderson gets way, way better weirdo commenters than I do.

This is a symphony of Catholic-bashing purple prose and a thundering fanfare of tinfoil-hattery.

These are actually consecutive sentences--or at least clauses--[WHIPLASH WARNING]:

NYC top drop outs: Hispanic 32%, Black 25%, Italian 20%. NYC top illegals: Ecuadorean, Italian, Polish. Ate glis-glis but blamed plague on others, now lettuce coli. Their bigotry most encouraged terror yet they reap most security funds. Rabbi circumcises lower, Pope upper brain. Tort explosion by glib casuistry. Hollywood Joe Kennedy had Bing Crosby proselytise. Bazelya 1992 case proves PLO-IRA-KLA links. Our enemy is the Bru666elles Sineurabia Axis and the only answer is alliance with Israel and India. They killed six million Jews, a million Serbs, half a million freemasons, a quarter million Gypsies, they guided the slaughter of Assyrians and Armenians, and promoted the art of genocide throughout the world.

He's trying to say something, I just know it.

It's like a glittering chandelier of crazy, and there's plenty more where that came from.

Come on, folks, step it up--I need a better grade of Bizarre around here, and the occasional flamethrowing driveby from VN contributors just isn't going to cut it any more.

We saw the smoke for this drifting over the road we were on.

Five miles away, at the corner of 9 Mile and Mound Road, for those of you familiar with the east side.

Heather thought it was smoke, but I thought it was the weirdest post-storm black cloud I'd ever seen. Plus, we didn't see a fire and I couldn't smell anything.

Score one for my ever-sharp child bride.

UPDATE: Rosie O'Donnell just e-mailed and said it was an inside job, since fire can't melt steel.



[Photo property of the Detroit News.]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Expected, unexpected and entirely welcome kudos.

First, to the 19 House Democrats who have told Nancy Pelosi to include them out of any health care legislation that funds abortion. From the Michigan perspective, notably present is the reliable pro-life soldier Bart Stupak (a good reason to relocate to the UP) and notably absent is the usually, if not perfectly, solid Dale Kildee of Flint. Time to hit the phone.

Second, to the Democrats for Life of America, who have given Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio two cowhide accessories: a belt in the mouth and a boot to the ass. The scent of power has given Ryan a bad case of Richard Rich's Disease, it seems.

Third, to Michael Sean Winters of America Magazine, last referred to on this site as a "two-faced jackass" and "brazenly dishonest shill." Neither of which I retract as to the posted issue. But it's only fair to give the man the fullest credit where it is due:

My sources in the Obama administration tell me that the White House understands that overturning the Hyde Amendment could kill health care reform and that they do not want to have this fight despite pressure from pro-choice organizations to hijack health care reform to achieve this long sought goal of theirs. Catholics should stiffen the administration’s resolve on this. To be clear: I have never voted for a Republican in my life. My mother told me my right hand would wither and fall to the ground if I did. But, if the President or my representatives in Congress support federal funding for abortion in any way, shape or form, I will never vote for them again and I might risk my right hand in the next election by voting for their opponent.

So, call your Senators and Representatives. Call the White House. Many of us pro-life Democrats have given the President the benefit of the doubt on the abortion issue because of his repeated commitment to trying to lower the abortion rate, a commitment he reiterated to Pope Benedict XVI last week. All the good will he has earned among Catholic swing voters, and all the arguments on his behalf progressive Catholics have mounted, all could be swept away if abortion is part of a federal option in health care. Politics is the art of compromise, but on this point, there can be none.


Great all over, and impeccably well-argued. Furthermore, his point about Robert Casey, Jr., deserves emphasis--the Bishop of Scranton needs to drop a love bomb, stat. Health care coverage was an issue near and dear to his late, great, father's heart, and he should be commended for standing tall here.

[Thanks to Jay Anderson for the last two stories.]

Mary Cassatt, eat your heart out.

Except for the outline of the ears, Madeleine composed the rest of this. Her first try at art class, a week ago.

"Brown manure, not green shoots."

Economist Nouriel (Dr. Doom) Roubini explains why the economy isn't in recovery mode. Indeed, there are thunderheads on the horizon, starting with an accounting fudge (ah, transparency) which is concealing weakness in (where else?) the financial sector:

The other important aspect of the labor market is that if the unemployment rate is going to peak around 11% next year, the expected losses for banks on their loans and securities are going to be much higher than the ones estimated in the recent stress tests. You plug an unemployment rate of 11% in any model of loan losses and recovery rates and you get very ugly losses for subprime, near-prime, prime, home equity loan lines, credit cards, auto loans, student loans, leverage loans and commercial loans--much bigger numbers than what the stress tests projected.

In the stress tests, the average unemployment rate next year was assumed to be 10.3% in the most adverse scenario. We'll be already at 10.3% by the fall or the winter of this year, and certainly well above that and close to 11% at some point next year.

So these very weak conditions in the labor market suggest problems for the U.S. consumer, but also increasing problems for the banking system as these sharp increases in job losses lead to further delinquencies on loans and securities and lower than expected recovery rates.

The latest figures on mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures suggest a spike not only in subprime and near-prime delinquencies, but now also on prime mortgages. So the problems of the economy are significantly affecting the banking system. Even if for a couple of other quarters banks are going to use the new Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) rules and under-provisioning for loan losses to report better-than-expected results, by Q4, with unemployment rates above 10%, that short-term accounting fudge will have a significant impact on reported earnings. And this will show the underlying weakness in the economy. So banks may fudge it for a couple of other quarters, but eventually the effects of very sharp unemployment rates and still sharply falling home prices are going to drag down earnings and have a sharp effect on losses and capital needs of the banks and the entire financial system.


I remember reading about the too-optimistic stress tests months ago. Buckle up.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Attack of the krynoid.

And a request for advice.

We planted our first garden this year, taking a run at putting what the charts show was once farmland (into the early 20th Century, I believe) back into productive use.

We acquired books on the subject, interrogated wise mentors, borrowed a rototiller to break ground (just once--rototilling every year kills off essential worms, fungi and other creepy things living in your soil you're probably better off not knowing too much about) and planted the seeds.

Dale3 planted pumpkins, Maddie and Rachel greenbeans, and Heather tomatoes.

Me? I'm the organic weedkiller. Me and Mr. Fiskars, the weed world's equivalent of an axe-murderer.




Mine's different, and cheaper, but does just dandy. Especially after being frustrated by efforts to remove them by hand. There's something immensely satisfying about tearing them out with a tempered steel claw.

I am also the custodian of the flowerboxes. I planted our Joseph's Coat rosebush seedling, trimmed our healthy yellow rose bush, weed amongst the peonies, Black-eyed Susans and the new royalty of the flowerbox: the volunteer sunflower plants, of which we have seven in various levels of height from dinky to snowline.

It's all going pretty well for all of the above.

In one case, much too well. Specifically, Trip's pumpkins, which have spread like the British Empire, unintentionally but inexorably, to cover 25% of the garden's surface.



None of the other plants are threatened for the moment (perhaps a vegetative modus vivendi?), but I need to trim it back a bit to start forcing pumpkin growth and to prevent the krynoid from deciding it must eliminate all of the fauna to create a world that is silent, green and beautiful.



But I want to do it without mortally wounding the plant or something vital. I nearly snuffed three of the sunflowers when I replanted them, so I'd like to avoid a reprise of that.

Anyone have any experience with pruning pumpkin vines and raising the rapacious gourds? Your input would be much appreciated.

And we all know the Brigadier's laser is worthless, so let's check that one off the list.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Babies! Babies everywhere!

1. First, congratulations to dear friends and Louis' godparents, Matt and Heather ("the Other Heather") Siekierski on the birth of their fifth daughter, Anna Maria (yes, I congratulated them before today, over on FB--I'm not *that* out of the loop). Mom and baby are both doing well.

Five...daughters. Let's just say that I think Matt qualifies as the most together guy on the planet in the face of that daunting vocation. Me, I'd be gibbering at the bugs inside my padded cell.

2. Congratulations to Dom (a/k/a "My Long-Lost Italian Twin Brother") and Melanie Bettinelli, who are the proud parents of Benedict Bettinelli, born today, a 7 lbs., 9 oz. bundle of joy. Mom and baby are also doing well.

[Update: Dom now has pictures up at Bettnet.]

Magisterial thought on Caritas in Veritate.

And it is as follows:

I'm still reading it.

OK, one impression: there's something to stick in everyone's craw, if you are reading it right. If nothing brings you up short, ring the buzzer for your nurse.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Finally--a silver medal!

Thanks to all who voted for my slogan in the Be Mean To Jennifer Lynch Contest!

I took second, so I'll be getting a pair of T-shirts to wear on my excursions across the Free Speech DMZ (a/k/a the Detroit River).

Big thanks also to Blazing Cat Fur for coming up with and hosting the contest.

Nevertheless, the fact that something like the CHRC could exist a stone's throw away makes me ever so glad for the following 45 words:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

New blog!

It's an old blog given new life, to be precise: Evangelical Catholicism. As mission statements go, this is a good one:

[I]f Christians take the Incarnation seriously, then they necessarily repudiate any separation between faith and works, spirituality and action, belief and reason, and piety and political participation. We do not and cannot separate Catholic doctrine from its lived expression in the concrete. But just as we ought to be on guard against the desecularization of our faith, we must respect the distinction between the natural and supernatural orders by avoiding conflation. Accordingly, the content of this blog will range from the theological and, at times, the academic, to the level of devotion and ministry inside and outside Catholic circles, as well as to socio-political life. We hold that doctrine is hollow without spirituality and prayer that continually seek the face of God. We also hold that faith is dead without the outward expression of ministry to, and solidarity with, the least of Christ’s brethren. We understand the Catholic faith to be the indissoluble union of doctrine, praxis, and spirituality. This is the ideal. The actual putting into practice is a constant and nearly insurmountable challenge, one that none of us has had any sustained success in overcoming. Fortunately–or, perhaps more accurately put, providentially–grace perfects the failed works of human nature.

We invite comments from our visitors. Ours, we hope, is never the last word.

It's already off to a good start, and the unpacking of the Pope's most recent encyclical is on the agenda. Give it a look.

The worst thing about vacations is that they end.

OK, that's overstating it a bit--running out of money is another problem. And I do develop a little homesickness, too.

But we're back after a week plus of fun up north. Here are some of the highlights.

Technically, this one didn't happen on vacation, but I'm a big fan of Louis' pasta-eating acumen:




This is Gladys, our winter refugee. She managed to escape from the house while we were gone. Did I mention we haven't been able to have her spayed yet? We're "looking forward" to a litter of kittens in a few weeks. Probably. Wanton strumpet:


We think this may be the father, or perhaps just an obsessive stalker/suitor. He actually waited on our stoop and looked for her yesterday evening. I'm thinking "shotgun," but not "wedding":

Loser.

Oh, and Dale has offered to try to sell the kittens. If he pulls that off, I'll put him in charge of the family's finances.

Back to the fun stuff. Here's Louis' second haircut. He's a perfect trooper with haircuts, and Bill the Barber in Harrison is no slouch either:

The weather was unseasonably cool all week, but the kids all jumped in the water anyway:



Louis with his big brother and hero, Dale. The reason Louis never freaks out at the barbershop is that I have Dale go first. If big bro can handle it, Louis realizes he can, too:



Rachel was delighted that her doll could float:


Maddie, collecting water and sand in a large bucket. Purpose never quite ascertained:

Maddie and Rachel, aqua-conferencing:

Now, to the next great annual adventure--the trip to Aunt Tude's Farm in Gladwin, Michigan. It is a working farm that is open to the public Friday-Sunday from spring through autumn. The kids are given feed buckets, food and a list of "chores" to complete before earning their prize. It's a great place, and the kids love it.

Heather and I do, too. It's smack in the middle of God's Country, Northern Lower Michigan District:

Here are some of the working, non-pettable animals on the acreage:



Louis is a big fan of the non-operable tractor:

There were a lot of "babies" this year, like these two month old potbellies:


And these four-day old piglets:

And these two-day old chicks:

And this not-quite-born robin, discovered by Madeleine in the hay barn. I held the camera above the nest and struck gold on the first shot:
Maddie loves the haybarn:



There's a lot more to wander around to see (OK, I just wanted an excuse to show you how Heather is coming along with the Impending One):


You can milk Blossom the Endlessly Patient Cow, though Louis was happy just to pet her. Very, very carefully:

You can ride a pony--if you're under 99 lbs, that is. There's a reason it's cheaper for adults to get in:

And you can feed all sorts of animals, including my favorites, the llamas. Henceforth, these two are the Official Blog Mascots. Both of them find your premises and argumentation to be dubious where not actually risible:





Oh, and even seasoned farmers can suffer from brainlock. Now just what could possibly go wrong with a giant pile of play sand and a litter of kittens nearby? He's already removed half of it, with the rest to go this week, a good idea ruined by feline biology:


We crashed quickly:


Finally, some snaps from the Summer Palace and immediate surrounding area, mixing shots from Memorial Day and the week past:



Don't ask me how I shot this one:



The lake is largely undeveloped, and I hope it stays that way:



From Memorial Day weekend, early in the morning. The waterfowl you see moving across the liquid mirror are loons:



Back to this weekend, in the early evening of Sunday, July 5:


Pretty much says it all:




Finis.

Recovering from vacation.

And exploding TVs, and fossilized brake drums, and a lawn out of Greener Than You Think, and work coagulating on my desk, and...

Blogging will recommence shortly.