Archive | January 2013

Hella for Congress

Wrapping up their Loretta Young month, TCM showed The Farmer’s Daughter last night. I dimly remember the TV series of the same name, but had never seen the 1947 film. Ben Mankiewicz noted that Ingrid Bergman turned down the part because she didn’t think playing a Swedish-American girl would be much of a challenge. In a big surprise, Loretta Young won Best Actress (haha).

As written, Katie Holstrom was a very hard-working, capable and charming young woman, who seemed bound to succeed. Her budding romance with the Congressman was handled well by Young and Joseph Cotten, but her sudden elevation to congressional candidate (Katie for Congress!) beggared belief, and the straightforward story started to resemble a gender-reversed Mr Smith Goes to Washington, assuming that if only an average, honest person took office, government would actually work as intended. Events got out of hand even before her opponent turned out to be a Klansman – but that’s Hollywood.

I liked the basic plot, so I wondered if there was a theatrical version without all the malarkey. There is, … the film is an adaptation of a Finnish play, Juurakon Hulda, which was also a 1928 film:

Poor but ambitious country girl Hulda arrives in the country’s capital and gets a job as a maid for a bachelor Member of Parliament, Judge Soratie. She works hard, never loses her common sense, and starts taking evening classes. Keeping her studies secret from her employer for years, she eventually graduates from the university and becomes candidate in the parliamentary election, stressing women’s and working people’s rights. Romance with Judge Soratie finally ensues.

The play shows up in the anthology, Modern Drama by Women 1880s-1930s, the hardcover of which is $140 new on Amazon, but a lot more reasonable in used paperbacks. According to The History of Nordic Women’s Literature, Hella Wuolijoki is even more interesting than her character:

Helle Wuolijoki was born into an Estonian farming community as Ella Murrik, moved to Finland in 1904, and was the first Estonian woman to do a master’s degree. She was married from 1908 to 1929 and had a daughter. When she took up business and became the proprietor of a forest, sawmill, and estate, she hosted political salons and accommodated Bertolt Brecht at her home for a period of time. Due to her Soviet contacts, she was initially sentenced to death, the sentence later being commuted to life in 1943-1944; however, she was released when a new government came to power. From 1945 to 1949, she was head of Radio Finland.

Her debut work was in Estonian, the play Talu lapsed, 1912, which was banned as a nationalist work in Estonia and Finland after its premiere. In 1932 she started writing in Finnish, but her manuscripts were rejected for political reasons. She first became successful when she wrote the drama Kvinnorna på Niskavuori under the pseudonym Juhani Tervapää in 1936, the first in a series of five that was translated into fourteen languages. A characteristic feature of her dramas is witty dialogue and a strikingly female perspective. She also collaborated with Bertolt Brecht, whose play Mr Puntila is based on an original work by Hella Wuolijoki.

Other sites note that her husband, Sulo Vuolijoki, was a close friend of VI Lenin. She changed the V to W later in life. Hella hosted a salon where she discussed her humanist and Marxist views, but never joined the Communist Party. During the Winter War (1939-1940) she used her connections to broker for peace with the Soviet Union, but those same connections led to her later imprisonment. She eventually served in Parliament and led the Finnish People’s Democratic League. Because of the Niskavuori stories, she is very highly regarded in Finland. There’s a biopic, Hella W:

In the beginning of the 1920s she had already made millions, wrote several politically hazardous plays and was under careful observation of, among others, British Intelligence, the Soviet Union and the Finnish secret service.

Soon, as the events of the Second World War started to unfold, Hella W finds herself in a situation in which she seems to have no right choices. She faces the same task as the Finnish agent put on her tail: finding out who she really is, and what hides behind the multi-faceted mask of Hella W, the celebrated writer, millionaire, rejected politician – and a mother.

House Cats and Wind Turbines

My brothers and I used to risk life and limb climbing in the old wooden hay barn on our property. My sisters climbed, too, but they weren’t as crazy as the boys. There were solid ladders to the peaks on both sides, and with post and timber framing and finger spaces between the siding, we could sidle along to almost any spot on the inside walls.

No one in the family were big fans of squab, who left feathers and droppings all over the barn floor. They roosted too high for the cats, and enjoyed the shelter. My Dad tried to keep them out, even shooting at them, but it was wasn’t a very tight barn.

I found a nest with three recently hatched chicks in the high reaches one day, and brought it down to a loft. Someone brought our cat Leon over to see how he’d react to the tiny birds. And he ate them. We were astonished. We’d seen cats eat birds on cartoons, but seeing the cruel reality of him biting, and them dying was quite a lesson to us. To Leon it was just another meal.

Lately there have been several articles criticizing both pet and feral cats as high-impact predators in the human-dominated habitat.

That Cuddly Kitty Is Deadlier Than You Think

The estimated kill rates are two to four times higher than mortality figures previously bandied about, and position the domestic cat as one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation. More birds and mammals die at the mouths of cats, the report said, than from automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windmills and other so-called anthropogenic causes.

A fellow in New Zealand wants to exterminate house cats before they exterminate the local bird populations. Others merely urge people to keep their cats indoors — which we do.

Jumping on the bandwagon, the wind lobby is claiming they’re not so bad because kitty cats kill a lot more birds than turbines.

In reality, environmental groups did not object to wind turbines just because they killed birds. Avian advocacy groups, like Audubon, objected to the turbines that are placed in high mountain ridges and kill slow-breeding raptors, or owls, or bats. Environmentalists object that the wind energy companies clearcut the forests around each turbine, and clearcut wide access roads between them. These issues can be fixed.

Unfortunately wind energy companies are largely run by the same sorts of people that run fossil fuel companies. They think worrying about environmental concerns is for suckers when there are profits to be made. So they publish charts, like this one in Mother Jones, showing that cats kill more birds than wind turbines.

Well cats do kill a lot of birds, as do buildings, jets, trucks and cars. And before man dominated the habitat, bobcats, foxes and larger birds killed a lot of birds. But the type of birds that small predators can catch were able to breed rapidly enough to survive the losses. To these small birds the game is the same, but they are becoming outnumbered by human-subsidized predators.

Wind turbines were a game changer because they threatened large birds, and other game, that had already been pushed into remote areas. Reportedly newer wind turbines are not as much of a threat to raptors, and there has been something of a rapprochement between wind groups and (some) environmental groups, with the former helping to fund the latter.

But the issue of house cats killing songbirds, while serious, bears very little comparison to turbines killing raptors. As with the slick, pro-fracking and pro-fructose adverts on television and in print, when so much effort is put into misdirection, one wonders what they are hiding.

Seeing Murdered Children Stays With You

I’m sure everyone will be linking to this article, but grab some tissues because it has to be read:

Reliving Horror and Faint Hope at Massacre Site

“One look, and your life was absolutely changed,” said Michael McGowan, one of the first police officers to arrive at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, as a gunman, in the space of minutes, killed 20 first graders and 6 adults.

No wonder that so many soldiers come back different.

What Has Andy Murray Done For Us Lately?

Afters years of having to look back to Fred Perry, Scotsman Andy Murray finally gave the UK a major titleholder by winning the 2012 US Open. Then he had to go and lose the Australian Open. AP sports correspondent John Leicester seems prepared to write Murray’s tennis obituary.

Andy Murray Risks Becoming One-Hit Wonder

A victory for Murray on Sunday to go with his U.S. Open crown and his Olympic gold won at home last August would have looked like a power shift at the top of men’s tennis, especially since Murray beat Federer for the first time in four attempts at a major to reach Sunday’s final.

Instead, the loss to Djokovic made Murray’s 2012 wins look more like exceptions than the possible beginnings of a new rule. …

The Australian final showed that physically, Djokovic and Murray are evenly matched, powerful on both the backhand and forehand sides, with delicate control, supreme fitness and rubber-ball quickness around the court.

But until Murray can consistently go toe-to-toe with Djokovic’s mental toughness, their rivalry won’t feel as titanic as clashes between Djokovic and Nadal or Federer and Nadal when they are at their best.

Shouldn’t that be blistered toe-to-healthy toe? Murray looked very good for two sets, winning one and losing the next in tiebreaks, then it seemed that his wheels fell off as he was treated for blisters on his feet. Be patient, Brits. Murray has the sort of game to win on any surface, but his feet have to toughen up a bit.

Fear and Firearms

A NY Times OpEd writer is both worried and fascinated by their power, but breakdowns in society has made him too afraid of the unknown assailant to not own a gun. I can relate.

Confessions of a Liberal Gun Owner

There are a lot of reasons that a gun feels right in my hand, but I also own firearms to protect my family. I hope I never have to use one for this purpose, and I doubt I ever will. But I am my family’s last line of defense. I have chosen to meet this responsibility, in part, by being armed. It wasn’t a choice I made lightly. I am aware that, statistically speaking, a gun in the home represents a far greater danger to its inhabitants than to an intruder. But not every choice we make is data-driven. A lot comes from the gut.

… The scene was like a snapshot from the Apocalypse: crowds milling restlessly, gas stations and mini-marts picked clean and heaped with trash, families sleeping by the side of the road. The situation had the hopped-up feel of barely bottled chaos. After Katrina, nobody had any illusions that help was on its way. It also occurred to me that there were probably a lot of guns out there — this was Texas, after all. Here I was with two tiny children, a couple of thousand dollars in cash, a late-model S.U.V. with half a tank of gas and not so much as a heavy book to throw. When my wife wouldn’t let me get out of the car so the dog could do his business, that was it for me. …

Like most citizens of our modern, technological world, I am wholly reliant upon a fragile web of services to meet my most basic needs. What would happen if those services collapsed? Chaos, that’s what.

Credit Card Hardship Postcard

In Debt Mediation Scam, I wrote about a pitch that tries to look like an overdraft notice. A few weeks ago, I got a yellow postcard, which still tries to look official on the front:


Warning $2,000 fine, 5 years imprisonment, or both for any person interfering or obstructing with delivery of this letter US Mail 18 Sec 1702 US Code 

All information held confidential 

How confidential can anything be on the front of a postcard? On the back it says that I have been selected for a Credit Card Hardship Program. I have debt, but no hardship. Still they warn me that failure to respond before a given date may affect the amount of debt reduced.

I googled the 800 number and found an old blog with links to the FTC and Experian, and bland advice about credit, but no real information. I googled Credit Card Hardship Program and found many links. Yahoo Finance says:

These are not the well-known debt management plans offered through nonprofit credit counseling agencies. These are the card issuers’ own internal hardship programs.They typically include the ability to lower the interest rate, lower the minimum payment or reduce fees and penalties. They’re either short-term (often six months to a year), or permanent (until the card balance is paid). …

If you have a credit card, chances are that issuer has a hardship program. “All of the creditors have them,” says Shore.

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard about it. “They don’t advertise the programs, they see them as proprietary,” says Travis Plunkett, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America. …

If you call asking about hardship programs, watch what you say. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 limits the circumstances under which a card issuer can raise your APR, but doesn’t prevent it.

They might do more than raise the interest rate. In a 2009 post, the Consumerist blog was asked, Is It Worth Taking A Lower Rate In Exchange For Closing Your Credit Card? :

“I’ve been trying since January to get the rate reduced to no avail. This time they told me that, under their hardship program, they could reduce my rate from 28% to 6%, but that would require that they close my card.”

The Consumerist advised that it was worth closing the card, but it is worth knowing what might happen before you call some unknown number.

The Daily Finance asks and answers, Do credit card hardship programs really work? Some do, but:

Be wary of offers to lower your minimum payment without a corresponding reduction in interest rates, says Aimee O’Brien, a training specialist at credit counseling group GreenPath Debt Solutions. It might seem as if the debt is off your back, but when the program expires, you’ll owe even more.

If all credit card holders have such programs, why wouldn’t they advertise instead of sending out creepy postcards?

No Timeout Azarenka

I blogged my thoughts that the brouhaha over Victoria (Vika) Azarenka’s Australian Open semifinal timeout against Sloane Stephens was overblown, and that the primary beneficiaries of the medical timeout are the tournament organizer, and the fans. Several big names in the tennis media couldn’t stop talking about gamesmanship, though. Despite Azarenka’s explanations at press conferences, despite the confirmations of the tournament’s medical trainers that Vika needed treatment, when Vika and Li Na took to the court, the crowd clearly favored the Chinese player. Vika might as well have been wearing a red G on her dress. As the crowd cheered for a Li winner or an Azarenka mistake, ESPN’s commenters kept reminding us of the timeout.

That distraction was a shame, because competitive Women’s finals have been relatively rare, and this one was very evenly matched. Li was dictating play and took a close first set 6-4. Azarenka seemed poised to answer, leading 3-1 in the second and ahead 30-15 on Li’s serve. Vika forced Li to retrieve. Li hit a high soft shot, giving Vika a choice of directions to hit the swing volley. Li chose crosscourt, Vika hit down the line. Li tried to stop and change directions, but rolled over her left ankle and crumpled onto the court.

Li stood up in pain, hobbling and keeping weight off her left ankle. A ballgirl brought her a towel, but she clearly needed the trainer and, yes, a timeout. A delay for Azarenka would have brought hoots and howls, but as the trainer wrapped Li’s ankle the crowd was very silent. Perhaps they realized the irony, but perhaps not since Li’s injury was self-evident. Vika would have had to shed blood to take an injury timeout in this final.

As play resumed, Li won five straight points, to hold for 2-3 and 40-love against Azarenka. Vika won five straight to hold at 4-2, and held twice more to take the second set 6-4. Li was no longer dictating, not serving as well on that bad ankle, but still had a chance.

Li was on serve 2-1 in the third set, ESPN’s commenters explained that there would soon be another delay due to a fireworks display to celebrate Australia Day. Apparently the tournament treats it like a rain delay. Both players were allowed to leave the court, and talk to their coaches for almost ten minutes – and no one could blame it on Azarenka. One of the commenters said that Li should make sure to keep moving, and keep her ankle warm and loose, but the Chinese player essentially sat through the break.

Within a point after play resumed, Li ran wide for a shot and went down on the same left ankle, rolling on her back and smacking the back of her head hard on on the court. She was clearly stunned, and received a thorough exam from the trainer to be sure she hadn’t suffered a concussion. Her thick ponytail may have saved her from worse, but she later claimed that she did black out for a moment. Again the commenters and crowd were forced to contemplate another lengthy delay, about seven minutes, that could not possibly be blamed on gamesmanship.

Against a game but shaky Li Na, Vika won the next three games and took the match 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

The injuries and media distractions were a dual shame because I think Li Na and Victoria Azarenka could have played a classic final. I think Li would have won, too.