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.


One Car, Two Car, Green Car, Porsche

After discussing whether driverless cars could find a foothold in a nation that so loves its cars, Kevin Drum felt he had to explain why a peak oil-aware political blogger owns a 911:

I seem to have unleashed a mini-storm of incredulity yesterday by mentioning that I drive a Porsche. Here’s a typical email from a longtime reader:

“You read a guy for ten years and you think you know him, and I would have never guessed that you drive a Porsche. You can preserve my construct of your personality if you tell me it was bequeathed to you by an uncle you’d never met.”

Nope. I don’t even have any uncles. The real story is that we all have at least a few vices, and mine is that I’m sort of a C-list car guy. I don’t inhale car magazines or anything like that, but I like cars, I like reading about them, and I like driving lively little sports cars. …

I’ve never liked muscle cars that look like Mattel Hot Wheels. Porsches are sexy, but I’ve always admired well-built, efficient cars more than sportsters. When I was a teen, my Dad once brought home Mercedes-Benz flyers. He bought another Oldsmobile, but I pored over those pictures for weeks, and developed a penchant for the Euro sports sedan look. One of my profs told me I’d better have a hell of a practice to afford the cars I liked. An Archimatect cartoon jokes that all architects are required to drive Saabs. I’m not addicted to any brands, but certain models catch my eye. Lancia Beta was an old favorite. Currently I like the looks of the new Dodge Dart, which is apparently styled after Alfa-Romeo’s Giulietta.

As a peak oil-aware political blogger myself, I’ve been wrestling with whether to buy a second car, or continue to do without. Despite knowing all the harm they do to the planet, like most Americans I am invested in the convenience of the personal auto. So I spend a lot of time browsing the so-called green vehicles, but feeling a bit dirty.

Kathy McMahon made a lot of sense on C-Realm’s Reframing the Sucky Collapse:

KMO welcomes Kathy McMahon, the Peak Shrink of, back to the C-Realm to talk about the psychology of predictions. We gravitate to flashy predictions over nuanced forecasts and don’t hold poor track records against those prophets whose predictions promise to vindicate us for holding the right beliefs. Unfortunately for Doomers who hope for a rapid collapse that will vindicate them for being early adopters of the Peak Oil collapse narrative, we seem to be in the midst of a slow degeneration that eats away at our security and wealth but never proves us right in the eyes of our doubters and critics. You may be braced for a sudden, sexy collapse, but do you have the gumption to endure the sucky collapse?

McMahon seemed to flummox KMO a bit by suggesting that even as we keep an eye towards change, we give ourselves some permission to enjoy the world as it is. More and more peak oil gurus have stopped predicting collapse tomorrow and are realizing that our industrial system is willing to make the ugly decisions that will prop itself up for quite some time. In the meantime we have to live here.

At the moment, the plugin Prius seems like a good hedge against higher fuel costs and a reasonable car today. But selective renting and car-sharing makes a lot of sense, too.

Timeout Azarenka

A few nights ago, I was watching the Australian Open quarterfinal between Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens. The youngster Stephens was fast afoot and hit the ball about as hard as the legend Serena, but wasn’t winning the important points. Serena won the first set, 6-3, so I figured that was that, and decided to get a full night’s sleep.

Next morning I saw the scoreline that Stephens had come back to win. “Oh, Man!” I thought, “I missed a great match.” But some reports said that Serena was suffering from more than the effects of the light ankle sprain she suffered in the first round. The Tennis Channel repeatedly rebroadcast the match and it was clear that in the second set Serena was just spinning in her serves and pattycaking her groundstrokes, but still holding fairly even with Sloane, who seemed flustered by her opponent’s obvious distress.

Tennis Channel color commenters trumpeted the match as an important victory for Sloane Stephens. The NY Times ran with, Stephens Upsets Williams in Stunner:

What was supposed to be a learning experience against one of the greatest tennis players in history turned instead into one of the bigger surprises in tennis history as the 19-year-old Sloane Stephens introduced herself to a global audience by rallying to defeat her 31-year-old American elder, Serena Williams, on Wednesday, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Farther down the page, the Times did eventually mention the injury thing:

The match took another turn in the eighth game when Williams shouted in pain as she ran forward and smacked a lunging backhand near the net. Grimacing, she was quickly broken again as Stephens took a 5-3 lead. Williams, limited in her movement, broke back in the next game and then called for a trainer on the changeover, eventually leaving the court for further treatment on her lower back.

“Well, a few days ago, it just got really tight, and I had no rotation on it,” she said. “I just went for this drop shot in the second set, and it just locked up on me. I think I couldn’t really rotate after that.”

Williams’s huge serve was considerably slower after she returned to the court, but she managed to hold at love to 5-all while serving change-ups to a visibly rattled Stephens.

Notice that Serena left the court for treatment, and that no one said, “boo” about it.

On Thursday, Stephens played the quarterfinal against Victoria (Vika) Azarenka, and I read that Sloane lost the first set even more quickly, 6-1. But in the second set, Azarenka ‘lost her cool’ according to the NY Times:

…the top-seeded Azarenka struggled to keep her cool down the stretch on a steamy day in Melbourne, when temperatures reached 97 degrees. … When Azarenka walked to her seat for the change of ends, she wrapped a towel stuffed with ice around her neck and was examined by the W.T.A. primary health care provider Victoria Simpson and by a tournament physician, Dr. Tim Wood. She eventually left the court for further treatment, which meant that Stephens, in her first Grand Slam semifinal, was left waiting to serve to stay in the match.

Azarenka returned to the court six minutes later, and the overall break in play was close to 10 minutes. The time allotted on a normal changeover is 90 seconds. … Though medical timeouts are permitted by the rules at that stage of a match in the case of injury, the timing of her break in play was questioned by many in the tennis community, who viewed it as potential gamesmanship.

No one had accused Serena of gamesmanship — but then she lost. Again the Tennis Channel rebroadcast ESPN’s coverage of the match over and over, so I got to watch the whole thing. Early in the second set, commenter Chris Evert did observe that Azarenka was favoring one leg, guessing that it was probably her knee that was injured. Later Azarenka was obviously in upper body pain, so it was no surprise when she called for the trainer. Sloane sat and stared, probably trying to stay focused — which a player has to be able to do in case it rains, or gets too dark, or someone calls for injury timeout.

When Vika returned, what I had read led me to expect that Sloane would muff several serves on her way to a weak service game. But on the first point, she hit a good serve, a few good strokes and went ahead 15-0. She did hit one double fault in that game, but overall she served and played about as well as she had been. Vika simply returned a lot better — as she had in the first set.

What really hurt Stephens was only winning 52% and 35% of points on her first and second serves in the first set, then only 36% of points on both first and second serves in the second set. But in A Timeout Jeered Round the World, the narrative has become that Azarenka is guilty of gamesmanship:

Shriver, who noted that Azarenka had also not mentioned the injury in an ESPN interview while coming off the court, was skeptical. “I think her response at the time was very honest and truthful, that she was stretching the rules,” Shriver said. “That was my reaction coming off the interview, and so that’s why I think all of us, many of us, jumped on it. Because we’ve seen the rule abused for years. I abused the rule when I played.”

If Azarenka was not legitimately injured, was calling a medical timeout cheating? Playing at the edge of the rules? Good old win-at-any-cost strategy?

It occurs to me that the greatest benefit of the injury timeout is to the tournament organizers. If players can receive treatment, they can keep playing. Otherwise they may forfeit — which annoys ticket holders. If players can receive prompt treatment, they can play with less chance of seriously injuring themselves, and pulling out of later events, which annoys tournament advertisers. If players can receive treatment, they can play hard, which can only make the tour look better.

What we have here, is an up-and-coming American player, on an American media network, losing to a more experienced foreigner. I predict that Sloane Stephens will have a fine career whether or not we accuse her opponents of cheating.

Hard Work

Wealthy people love to claim that they got that way primarily due to hard work.

Financial Crisis Suit Suggests Bad Behavior at Morgan Stanley

On March 16, 2007, Morgan Stanley employees working on one of the toxic assets that helped blow up the world economy discussed what to name it. Among the team members’ suggestions: “Subprime Meltdown,” “Hitman,” “Nuclear Holocaust” and “Mike Tyson’s Punchout,” as well a simple yet direct reference to a bag of excrement.

Ha ha. Those hilarious investment bankers.

Then they gave it its real name and sold it to a Chinese bank.

Hey, “coffee is for closers.”

“While investors and taxpayers all over the world continue to choke on Wall Street’s toxic subprime products, to this day not a single major Wall Street executive has been held accountable for misconduct relating to those products,” said Jason C. Davis, a lawyer at Robbins Geller who is representing the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “They are generally untouchable, but we are pleased that the court in this case is ordering Morgan Stanley to turn over damning evidence, so that the jury will get to see what Morgan Stanley really knew about the troubled nature of its supposedly ‘higher-than-AAA’ quality product.”

“Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. If you want to work here, close.”

On some days, even my workaday world feels like Glengarry Glen Ross, but that doesn’t mean I can collect a huge bonus for foisting defective buildings on clients. In almost any other field selling shit will get you in trouble with the authorities. The problem seems to be that Wall Street owns the authorities.