Saturday, December 31, 2011

The People of Istanbul

What’s to say about a city where it’s okay to smoke two packs a day but it’s wrong to eat bacon? Where you need to keep your windows closed, even in 100-degree heat, because cold air will enter and you’ll get sick and die? Where a boy isn’t circumcised until he turns ten? Where you can’t feed babies anything with soy, or else they’ll become gay? Where the first act in eliminating male body hair is for a 14-year-old boy’s mother to shave his pubic hair?

Where young women think twice about going out on the town with their friends because “people will talk?”

For all that, Istanbul is very much a 21st century megacity of 10 million or 12 million people. No one seems quite sure.  Part of the population has vaulted into the modern age, while the ninety-nine percent still have one foot in the past, have not shared in much of the new wealth and live a tenuous day-to-day existence waiting for the inevitable moment when inflation spikes, the economy tanks, someone bad takes over the government or an earthquake hits, all of which have been inevitable and always will be.

Perhaps the biggest difference between poor and comfortable is the extent to which you can control your fate. “Inshallah” doesn’t mean so much “It’s God’s will” as it does “Shit happens.”

Istanbul officially began around 660 B.C.E, so it was nearly nine centuries old when it became the capital of the Roman Empire in 390 A.D. It was Constantinople until 1490 or so—about the time Columbus sailed to the New World—when it became Istanbul.

I mention this not for a history lesson, but to point out the most salient characteristic of Istanbul’s people: It may be the 21st Century, but it’s also the 20th, 19th, 18th and so on, all at the same time. That’s the past the 99 percent still inhabits to one degree or another, and it’s as much a faultline as the geological ones that crisscross the entire region.

Walk the commercial areas, and many people are as chic and sophisticated as Parisians striding confidently through the First Arrondissement.  The young ones, both women and men, are exceedingly attractive, with their doe-like eyes, chiseled Aegean faces, glowing skin and thick, radiant dark hair.  They seem to be in constant motion. Even standing, their eyes dance like glitter and their hands twitch in more verbs than their conversation which erupts in stanzas of excited syncopation.

But then, there are the older folk of middle to old age—the Babushkas and the Old Guys.

The Babushkas , while not covered, tend to be dressed in gray or brown body dresses that resemble heavy twill raincoats without buttons, and headscarves.  Heavy sacks jammed with groceries or household goods strain both arms.  Built like hydrants, they usually walk in twos and threes and move aside for no one, the expressions on their faces saying things can’t get any worse and we’re all doomed anyway.  Ask one of them something—English is not widely spoken—and she’ll give you a look that simultaneously smiles and says, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

The traditional retirement age in Turkey has been—drum roll, please—forty-five, so the street corners are inhabited by legions of Old Guys who may not be all that old. But they look it nonetheless.  Either thin or stocky (there are very few fat Turks), their faces are Masques of Tragedy emblazoned with thick white or gray moustaches. Each wrinkle on their faces is a different story. Constantly smoking, they wear black wool coats and thick shoes, their heads adorned with a newsboy-style cap or thickly-woven pull-ons that would have been a fez in another century (Ataturk banned the wearing of a fez).

The Old Guys commandeer street corners singly or in small groups debating everything from the high price of lamb to the latest conspiracy involving the CIA and Israel.  Stop to ask one of them something, such as “Where is a camera store,” and he will pull his chin for a second or two and dart into a shop to fetch a clerk who has twenty-or-so words of English.

After determining the nature of your question, he will gather together all the nearby groups of Old Guys, who will debate amongst themselves with shrugs and gesticulating arms , every once in a while looking back at you and pushing at the air with the palm of his hand while nodding with his eyes closed, as if to say “Don’t worry, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.”

And he will tell you, in Turkish, where the store is, so he can make sure that you don’t understand the most magnificent language in the world. Next, he will personally escort you to the store and tell the owner you are his friend and should be treated with respect. Offer a tip, and you’ll insult him.

Of course, you know that the Babushkas and the Old Guys are married, and you wonder how it goes at home.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More Things You Didn't Know About Me

It wasn't as cool as this but you get the idea
1. In the 1950s, my father bought a kind of run-down cabin on a couple of lakefront acres at Lake Tahoe. It was a small, narrow two-story affair, with exterior walls of unfinished cedar logs. A wall-sized river rock fireplace heated the house. At first, you had to hand-pump water from the lake into the kitchen sink, but that got remedied later and we had real running water. The kitchen stove was a wood-burner, the kind you see in old movies, where you have to stick a little lever into a slot to pick up the plates on top. I don't know how my mother cooked on it for a family of eight, but she did.  My father sold the property a few years later for, I think, $45,000, when he needed the money for his business.

2. My first dog when I was six or so was named Edward. He wasn't really mine, but I thought of him that way. He was an English Shepherd mix, and I was so shocked when he bit me one day after I took away a chicken bone. A couple of years later, he bit a neighbor kid and had to move to a ranch, where he lives to this very day. That euphemism is in my permanent lexicon.

3. Local ranchers used to buy odd lots of lumber from my father's sawmill in Plumas County, CA, and they all paid cash for these small purchases. The cash accumulated over the years, and my father, the mill foreman and my cousin decided to split it three ways. Since it was unrecorded income, my father wrapped his share--a stack of $100 bills--into an aluminum foil packet and hid it in the freezer. The freezer malfunctioned one day and saturated the currency, so my mother put the bills on the kitchen table to dry. This was on the day my father's childhood friends from Lakeview, Willard Leonard, came to visit after maybe fifty years.  As Mr. Leonard came through the front door, someone turned on the swamp cooler in the kitchen, and the $100 bills floated all over the place. He gave my father a weird look and said he guessed Dad had hit the big time.

4. Okay, I know this was supposed to be about me and it's been about my father. He was named J.K. Metzker, and my nephew who just died was named after him. J.K (the younger) was outrageously funny.  He did things like call up my brother (his dad), and in a fake voice say there were problems with the credit card, totally fooling my brother no matter how many times he'd do something like that. He would also con the flight attendants on Southwest into letting him do the passenger announcements and announce they were heading for Mexico City instead of the true destination. Like that. In his 1918 Lakeview High School yearbook, my father wrote that his ambition was to become the next Charlie Chaplin.

5. My closest friend ever, not counting my wife, was named Bino. He was four and I was five when we first met. His family had just moved into the neighborhood and he was standing on the porch when I walked over. He threw a block of wood and it hit me in the forehead, but things went uphill from there. We were touring Europe in 1970 when I got my second military induction notice. I would later get a third. When the draft lottery was instituted, I drew 310, I think, and he drew a 305, which meant neither of us would be drafted.

6. My Uncle Fred owned a whorehouse. This was probably the biggest don't-ask, don't tell of our family lore. It was called the Triangle River Ranch and was located on the border of Washoe and Storey counties in Nevada. A local hood, Joe Conforte, operated the place. When Bob Moore, the D.A. from Storey County conducted a raid, the whores would all run to the Washoe County side, and when the Washoe County D.A., Bill Raggio, raided the place, the whores all ran to the Storey County side. This is a true story.

One day, the two D.A.'s got together. Bob Moore got the court order while Bill Raggio stood by with the torch and they burned the place down. Joe Conforte moved a few miles away and opened the infamous Mustang Ranch. Uncle Fred repaired to his home and lodge on the only privately-owned land on the Paiute Indian Reservation, where the family still lives and runs the Crosby House.

Bill Raggio became the most politically powerful man in Nevada.  Bobby Moore became a good friend many years later and used to go abalone diving with us in Little River, in Mendocino.

And that's enough for now, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Post I Can't Write

One of life's greatest rewards is becoming a parent, but before that stork flies out the window, it wraps you in an invisible Cloak of Irrational Fears.

One of them is that your baby will die of crib death (SIDS). Never mind that the odds of this happening to your child is extremely rare. The fact that it can happen terrorizes any parent into checking a sleeping infant every thirty minutes or so.

The very idea of something happening to harm your child never leaves. The invisible Cloak of Irrational Fears isn't something you ever get used to. In fact, it seems to get heavier and heavier as the years go by.

On Monday, members of my family got the call that every parent fears most. My nephew, J.K., was struck by a car and killed. Though we have not lived in the same city for many years. J.K. was very much a part of my children's, my wife's and my lives.

I would like to go into this some more, but I just can't. I can't write about the adorable wife and three little boys he left, nor the grieving father and cousins and aunts and uncles and friends since kindergarten, not to mention the entire community of Reno, Nevada, where he was a television sportscaster.

If I were a stronger and better man, I would write about the injustice of it all. Why it couldn't have been me instead of J.K. Why drunk drivers need to be impaled. And this is not to mention another furious diatribe against the possibility of the existence of God I should get into.

In fact, I'm only writing this because my daughter wrote a couple of lines on her blog, which shamed me into doing something.

And quite honestly, I've already written more than I thought I could. I'm still too far into my reality distortion zone to do much of anything, really.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Just DON'T Do It!!

This post is about shaving, so naturally it starts with a reflection on menopause.  Among my favorite writers out there is Sandra Tsing Loh, who recently wrote "The Bitch is Back" in the latest issue of The Atlantic.  It includes a marvelous anecdote of a father saying, "Kids, your mother may be going through some changes right now, and I want you to be prepared.  Your Uncle Ralph told me that when your aunt Carol went through the change, she threw a leg of lamb right out the window." 

I loved that! It's among the best stories of the perpetually in-progress  Fuck 'em All but Six and Save Them for Pallbearers collection, not yet formally crowdsourced but no doubt slated for, say, Kickstarter.  A good leg of lamb is, what, twenty-five or thirty bucks? The image of a woman looking at her family and heaving one out the window? Priceless.

I hate shaving.  Over the course of my life, I can't imagine how many pounds of my DNA that have been rinsed down the sink and into the sewers.  And I have to say there are times I want it all back, as though by doing so, the years will rewind and I can have a do-over.

This whole business started off innocently enough.  What was I, fourteen or so when I'd gaze into the bathroom mirror at the thistling down on my chin and beg for just one strand to be thicker and darker than the rest?  I think it was my father who said to not start shaving, because once you started it, your whiskers would grow faster and heavier.  

Since I tended to do pretty much the opposite of what he said, I ran right out and got a double-edged razor and shaving cream.  "What's in that Walgreen's bag?" my mother said.

"Nothing!" I answered as I skulked to the bathroom.  No one skulks like a fifteen-year-old adolescent boy, except, maybe, a fifteen-year-old adolescent girl.  At the time, Gillette advertised its double-sided razor on the (baseball) Game of the Week as having light, regular and heavy settings.  No wuss, I, and I set mine on heavy from the git-go.  Announcers Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese ignited my manhood.

I used this double-sided version until college, when I grew what would be the first of several beards. Beards were cool in the Sixties, and I'd already started to dislike the morning shaving ritual.  And even with a beard, you still had to do it, unless you wanted to look like a werewolf.

On more than one occasion, I would try an electric razor.  Sometimes, while commuting, I'd look at the guy in the car next to me and watch him fan his mug with the latest from Braun or Norelco, and be envious.  But electrics never worked for me.  They left my face looking like a plucked chicken and feeling as though it had undergone a potato bug stampede.

But it's not as though shaving didn't have its pensive moments.  Many eureka revelations have bloomed through the haze of the autopilot morning ritual--the perfect endwords in an ABAB rhyme scheme, the solution to a nagging business problem, some new insight, some stark realization like Gabriel's, when he sees a woman absorbed in thought at the top of the stairs and realizes it's his wife (James Joyce's "The Dead").

I've often wondered what it would have been like to have scripted my life somewhat, where I could have decided what I wanted, understood what was preventing me from having it and neatly threaded it all into beginning, middle and end, with all the acts broken down into scenes and each scene neatly blocked.  I swear to god, some people seem to have done this, even casting the damned thing.

But for the ninety-nine percent, that's not how it works.  At least, it didn't for me.  Looking back, there are lots of vivid memories and stories and anecdotes, but really, the thread of my life is an unedited strip of episodic events that seem to have propelled me to where I am today, and for the life of me, I can't really say what they all were.

The daily shave is a trope of all this.  Looking at my face in the mirror every morning, I thought I always looked pretty much like I always looked.  You look pretty much like you looked yesterday, and tomorrow you will pretty much look like you do today.  But one day not long ago, I looked in there and thought, "Who the hell is that old guy?"  

So it goes.  As a boy, I recall gazing into the Milky Way one night and realizing that I'd be fifty-two when the year 2000 dawned.  Fifty-two! That it would be close to, umm, forever.  But now, it's eleven years past forever, and the time from then to now collapsed into some spacetime anomaly.  Which means your movie begins in some distant haze and you're not quite sure when it will snap to an end.

Which is what I realized a couple of weeks ago when I renewed my supply of razor blades at Costco and it cost $47.95. $47.95! Christ Almighty anyway.  I'm convinced they were $27.95 the last time I bought them.  When I got home, I realized that if something didn't change, and fast, this is how it was going to be for the rest of my life. The kabuki dance with shaving had to come to an end.

My insurrection began with shaving the hard stubble surrounding my lips and blanketing my chin with an electric razor I'd received for Christmas years ago, and following up with a blade shave.  That would add an extra four or five shaves to one blade.  Take that, Gillette! Wilkinson blades from England were better than yours, you put Wilkinson out of business, gave your blades a shorter life and raised the price, but I'm fighting back, bitch.

Then I thought, what the hell?  Why shave at all?  I mean, some days, I don't go anyplace where I HAVE to shave, where looking like an ur-wino might engender whispered reproach amongst the laity.  The spaniel doesn't really give a damn, and neither does anyone in the Gorge or at Farmers Market.  Screw it.  And if it turns out that my wife and I decide to go out or that I have to meet someone in a professional setting, I can always whip out the electric for a quick tuneup.  Actually, I can get by with a blade shave a few times a week at most.

And it puts me in company with that woman who pitched the damned leg of lamb out the window.  If I ever didn't get it, Lady, I sure as hell do now.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

One (or Some) of Us Is (Are) Not Like the Others!

According to Michael Lewis' new book, Boomerang, here's what happened in Europe.  The Germans ran a good economy.  Neither the government nor the financial institutions borrowed what they couldn't repay.

The Greeks, on the other hand, ran a bad economy.  They built a railroad, for example, whose revenues are around 100 million Euros, a payroll of 400 million Euros and other expenses of 300 million Euros or so.  To finance all this, Greece borrowed enormous sums of money from banks, mostly in Europe.  Now, Greece can't pay it back.

Which means the banks they borrowed it from are stuck big time.  To keep the banks from going under, The EU has to get money from its members whose economies are good and give it to countries, like Greece, whose economies stink.

Thus, the question: If you were a German, would you like to have your taxes raised to bail out Greece? 

And if your answer is No, which it certainly ought to be, then why aren't you on the side of Occupying Wall Street?

America's big lenders made a whole lot of bad loans, and to preserve the country's--actually the world's--financial system, the U.S. Treasury came up with TARP, which many thought would cost as much as $300 billion.  As it happens, it won't, because the banks are paying most of it back.

The U.S. is a long way from being out of the woods, yet, and the state of a couple of the biggies still isn't great.  The American taxpayer may be called on again.

But still.  If you lost your job because of the financial meltdown, or you graduated from college with student loans in five and six figures and you can't get a job because of the crisis, would you think bailing out Wall Street is the right thing to do?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I Believe!! I Believe!! (Umm, Do You?)

Cognito, ergo sum.  I think, therefore I am, said Renee Descartes.  Or did he?  How do you know?  You read it in some book? Someone told you?  You found it on Google?

Okay, you don't "know" know.  What if I told you Descartes ripped it off someone else? (Really?  He did? No! Well, then).  Okay, we may not know.  But we certainly believe it.

Like people believe in lots of stuff. 

An epiphany happened today during an IRS audit on why people believe what they believe, despite evidence to the contrary.  Or, more to the point, despite a lack of evidence one way or the other.  More often than not, it seems to me that people just believe what it's convenient to believe, as long as it pretty much goes along with ingrained predjudices. Inconvenient facts ought not to upset one's diurnal equilibrium, after all, so why seek them out?  Too uncomfortable.

And so, ahem, I present these photos of two different defendants freed from murder charges because of messed up DNA sampling in two world-famous trials:

Did he do it? (Greek Chorus: Yes! He did it with that knife he bought and he killed Nicole and Ron Goldman! You can tell because he's black and he's arrogant and it was a WHITE WOMAN!)

Did she do it? (Greek Chorus: No!  Look at the angelic face of a beautiful vixen! She could never have slit that other girl's throat and by the way probably never ingested anything stronger than 3.2 beer!)
And do you know, or do you believe? And why?

For the record, I am a confirmed skeptic when I'm not a confirmed cynic.  Honestly, not believing and, later, undoing what I decided to believe is hard. Trust me on this.  During today's epiphany, I tried to recall the first time I realized something I believed wasn't true, and then tried to accomodate it.  Maybe it was when my best friend, at six years old, hauled around his pet rabbit for days saying, "It's asleep."  Or, maybe when the pastor's son tried to molest me in the locker room.

It's gotten to the point that when someone tells me what s/he believes, I go, "hmm."  As in:

 Remember the "I Believe You, Anita" bumper stickers?

"We need to cut spending and end job-killing taxes." 

I guess what I REALLY mean is, here's the problem:  Most people, including me, don't really care what the other person believes.  It's that person's business, and if it works for them, it works for me.  And most of the time, that attitude is okay--at least I BELIEVE it's okay--because I know and love too many people who don't believe what I believe.

But too much relativism on this issue is, maybe, dangerous.  One of my favorite bitches is real estate and mortgage brokers who say now is a good time to buy a home, no matter if it's now or 2006.  We got this:

Because this is where we will end up:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Airport Security: What TSA Really Means

TSA doesn't mean Transportation Security Agency.  It means Travel Sucks for Americans.

My wife and I travel fairly often.  Okay, not weekly, like so many others, but we fly to Denver several times a year, to Reno, to San Francisco, Hawaii or other vacaton spot and even to Istanbul now and then.  And I get why air travel needs enhanced security, but does anyone really think TSA officials are saving us from anything?

(Editor's Note: Do not paint everyone with a broad brush.)  Okay, Ed., fair enough.  Some TSA workers are pretty good and probably useful.  There's that really cute old TSA guy at PDX who tells you where to go and reminds you that you have to show your picture ID and boarding pass.  And he seems to zero in on people who don't travel often and Very Old People who seem mystified, kindly telling them the same thing even though he's done it 42,000 times that day.  Last Thursday, a woman tried letting everyone know that the line for the D-E Gate was shorter than the A-B gate.  And on the whole, PDX security people are consistent.

But that's not true in the rest of the world. TSA may have rules, but every airport either makes up its own or only uses the ones they can read in one sitting.  My daughter who travels back and forth to Istanbul opined that the smaller the town, the more Barney Fife-like the TSA workers are.  She made this observation after being detained several hours with four Persians a few years ago, the Portland TSA guy asking over and over what she knew of the Istanbul bombing.  And I recall the Eugene people to demonstrate IQ levels which would describe the daily afternoon temperature.

But a recent trip to Denver upended this hypothesis.

We have a carryon which contains my shaving kit and a bag of my wife's cosmetics and personal care items.  This bag has gone through TSA check after TSA check after TSA check with no problem.  Reno.  San Francisco.  Denver (last summer). Portland.  But apparently, the Denver International crew recently drank a new kind of Kool Aid.

It didn't help that the Denver Airport's security has to be among the worst ever.  It's a busy airport, but has a security facility geared to half the passenger traffic actually there.  Arrive an hour early?  At Denver, plan two, and don't forget you have to ride a train to your departure gate. Now, though, TSA-Denver has decided to body scan everyone.  Okay, (un)fair enough. But then, my wife failed scanner walk-through because she'd forgotten to remove her sandals, whose soles aren't thick enough to hide a quarter, let alone a vial of Semtex.  Body scan, patdown, and since I was with her, body scan and patdown for me as well.

We were almost free, but then Captain America spotted the carryon bag.  Slight, stiff crewcut, clenched lips, the kind of guy who wears mirror sunglasses in a movie theater, his last job had to have been part-time security at a half-empty strip mall, but he saw his Chance at Glory and seized our bag.  Commanding us to follow, he took us to a nearby table and proceeded to remove each item as though it were an organ being transplanted and laid them on the table. Next, he re-arranged them by size and examined each one to be sure each was within the regulation 3.5 fl. oz.

He looked at me and said, "Sir. Do. You. Know. That. These. Items. Are to be. Packed. In a clear. Ziploc."

Look sideways and cough, please.
I asked if the rules had been changed lately.  Liquids are supposed to be visible, and we'd never been stopped for this before.  He interrupted and said, "Sir. These. Are. The. Rules. I'm just telling you. The. Rules."  When I said we had never, ever had this experience, he again interrupted and said, "Sir.  These. Are. The. Rules."  Then he walked off, making sure we sent the carryon bag through the scanner again.  Our flight was already boarding when we arrived at the gate.

Again, I appreciate the need for enhanced airport security.  I know Al Quaida terrorists are out there and want to kill Americans and take all our stuff, and I know the TSA is there to defend us.

I just hope the terrorists are half as scared as I am.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Rocky Mountain Morning

When you're near Boulder, Colorado, you can't wait to see this when you awaken in the morning.  They're the Flatirons on the east slope of the Green Mountain in the Rockies.  They almost seem to be alive in the changing light from dawn to dusk, no matter the season.

Inside my sons' apartment, though, the view is blocked .  Of course, the fall outside their window is extraordinary.  It's a water color pastiche of blue spruce splashed among the red and gold erupting from the maples and ashes, and the air is crystalline against a Renaissance blue sky. But this was my view:

Meet Monk.  Monk is a honey badger when it comes to appreciating fall or Flatiron views. Fifty-some degrees in Portland, OR, and raining? Monk doesn't give a shit.  Can't see the Flatirons? Ditto.

What he does seem to want is to be fed, walked or both.  Nevermind that he just finished breakfast and returned from his morning walk an hour or so ago.  He seems to believe there's a very good chance I won't remember, and if not a very good chance, then a chance, and if not a chance, then a very small chance.  Whatever.  His life is spent sleeping and then awaiting the Next Fun Thing.

If you take in a dog from out of the cold, Samuel Clemens said, and make him warm and feed him, he will be your friend for life.  And this is the chief difference between Dog and Man.

Humans don't have the constancy that dogs have.  The first year of human life is spent eating and sleeping in three- or four-hour intervals, after which they stop looking like Winston Churchill and start turning into unique persons.  But dogs?

They start out as enthusiastic puppies and pretty much stay that way, unless their owners screw them up.  They're grateful for meals, even though it's the same food every time.  Their forgiveness is instantaneous if you get cross.  They're always thrilled to see you, no matter if you've been gone for ten minutes or ten days. Always there. Always the same in their nuance of differences.

And in this, it occurs to me, Monk may be more like the Flatirons than I originally thought.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A New Personality Assessment Test

Following up on yesterday: The world needs a personal-psychological assessment test that’s really useful.  A previous post talked about one I failed—DISC—and we all know about the Myers-Briggs assessment test.  Myers-Briggs uses Jungian psychological type preferences of Extroversion (E), Sensing (S), Thinking (T), Judgment (J), as well as Introversion (I), Intuition (N), Feeling (F), Perception (P).

Well, if those tests are so great, why are so many people still working in the wrong profession?  Falling in love with the wrong person?  Believing the wrong politician?  Time is proving those tests to be chimeras.

I say we need a test that works, so I devised one based on the Kubler-Ross Stages of grieving, when coping with death—often one’s own.  The stages are Denial (D), Anger (A), Bargaining (B), Depression (P) and Acceptance (C).

Denial (D)—You’ve seen them—Skinheads in O.J. Simpson shirts.  Parents who say their 37-year-old is thinking about law school.  Business owners telling bankers about their figures.  Bankers listening to store owners talking about their figures.  People who are strong in D are able to face reality in the eye and never see it.

Anger (A)—People strong in A are quick problem solvers.  They tend to sport bumper stickers that say, “Don’t like my driving? Call 1-800-EAT SHIT.  With their televisions set to the Fox News channel, they are hard chargers, see the world in black and white and brook no quarter.  The phrase, “often wrong but seldom uncertain” applies to them.

Bargaining (B)—B folks won’t take No for an answer, but they won’t take Yes, either.  Their drawers are full of unused grocery store coupons.  They always offer Groupon half the deal price, because you never know.  People high in B are challenged to accept certainty.

Depression (P)—If you’ve ever seen Rodin’s statue “The Thinker,” you’ve seen a representation of someone with high P.  Unlike Ds, Ps not only see reality, they see it in an infinite number of prisms, anyone of which can awaken them in the middle of the night and cause despair.  They seldom finish projects, because the path to completion takes so many twists and turns. If you’re high in P, you probably think “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” is a documentary.

Acceptance (C)—If someone high in C is called into her boss’ office, falsely accused of embezzlement and fired, she will immediately touch up her resume and look for another job.  C people tend to want to get on with things and not look back.

Those are the categories.  The next step is to put them into some kind of order (CP, DB, etc.) to make the test useful.  This is totally open source, so I’m interested in others’ ideas.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I Failed the Real Estate Test

A couple of days ago, I took the test, the one you apparently need to pass to successfully sell real estate.  I've had my real estate broker's license for several years, but it turned out that the state-required licensing test apparently wasn't the one I would really need to pass.

According to columnist Bernice Ross in a recent Inman News column, I need to pass the DISC test.  It's a psychological assessment test based on D for Dominance, I for Influencing, S for Steadiness and C for Compliance.

"D" people are the hard-charging, get it done yesterday type.  Often wrong, but seldom uncertain, to them, it's better to ask for foregiveness later than permission in the first place.

I pretty much fail at D.  As a middle sibling, I always seek consensus and collaboration before leaping into the breech

"I"-type people are trusting, optimistic and engaging.  They love to talk and tend not to get things done, unless they also have a high D score.

I think I might get a C- on I on a good day.  I'm sometimes all of that trusting-optimistic-engaging stuff, but sometime never, so that part averages out.  The only one I pretty much trust all the time is my dog, Pippin, and she doesn't totally trust me all the time.  But I'm bad a getting things done and my D is low, so I get downgraded here. 

Steadiness got my hopes up.  I'm a Capricorn and we're steady as as ocean liners.  "S" people live very regular patterns, like eating shredded wheat with bananas for every weekday breakfast at 7 a.m.  They don't like getting out of their comfort zones and they don't like sudden change.

B+, even an A- here.  I HATE cold calling and won't do it, for example.  Very S, no?  I do have broad daily patterns I like to keep to, but that's mostly so I won't forget what I'm supposed to be doing more than it is an attachment to pattern.  Still, my wife would tell you my daily rhythms are set in stone, and to that I say I like dinner's leftovers for breakfast and not shredded wheat.

"C" people are detail-oriented.  They're cautious and like to get it right the first time. That's me--I hate failing, mostly because I cringe when someone points out my failings. Engineers and CPAs have high C.

Hmm.  Maybe a B-, here.I am definitely not detail-oriented, but I'm pretty careful and cautious.  I could never be a CPA, because I'd make too many arithmetic errors.

When you're all done with the test, you get to average together your I's and D's and C's and all that, and then lay out what you are.  I sort of visualized this part as a truncated Scrabble game describing your life.  Anyway:  You can be a DS, a CI, or maybe a DCSI or whatever.

Anyway, to be a successful real estate broker, you need to have high D and I scores.  Think, um, George Bush II or Ronald Reagan.  Bill Clinton. Michele Bachmann. Or imagine any insirational speaker you've heard (or get stuck with at PBS fundraising--Suze Orman, anyone?).

And when it's all done, here's what you get to be, if only you PASS THE TEST:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Spare Change You Can Believe In

Half the country wants it to rain $20 bills.  The other half thinks maybe a faith-based economic program shutting down everything from the FAA to the Post Office will turn things around.

The Plucky Observer interviewed former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan for his opinion:

You've gotta love Obama's defenders talking about "leading from behind."  Outside of a possible hemorrhoid cure, that sounds pretty oxymoronic.

Waiting for the Obama administration to offer up a huge economic plan is like waiting for Charlie Brown to kick the football Lucy tees up.  True, they saved the world financial system, kept the American auto industry afloat, managed to pass a universal health care bill of sorts, get Osama bin Laden, wind down the war in Iraq, and what-not.  But that was then and this is now.

Every responsible economist from either side of the political debate (except the ones with degrees from Oral Roberts) is calling for a big spending stimulus. Will Obama do it in his big economic growth speech before a joint session of Congress Thursday?

Probably not.  That's too out front.  But then, Charlie Brown might really kick that football, too.  Right.  The Prez will probably meekly suggest a tax credit to businesses for hiring someone, so they can hire someone they don't need, take the tax credit and lay the person off again.

Now, that's change you can believe in.

The speech will precede opening night of professional football, where someone will really kick a football someone else tees up.  Is that a good sign?

Monday, August 22, 2011

I'm Changing My Name to Ron Paul

One of my father's favorite quips was, "Isn't it amazing the things people would rather have than their money?" He was usually referring to something like an uncomfortable-looking pair of shoes my mother had bought, or to a faux baseball jersey some fan had just overpaid for at the ballpark. Walk through Target or Costco or Macy's, and you're stunned at the number of things for sale and you wonder about many of them, "Who'd ever buy that?"

Well, someone will, probably. They'd rather have that green frog doorstop than they would the money it cost. Which, of course, leads me to the topic du jour.

On Bloomberg news this morning, I heard that Congressman Ron Paul had raised $1.8 million for his Quixotic presidential bid. It means that a group of people--don't know who or how many--would rather have Ron Paul than their money.

Naturally, I thought to myself, "Man, what turnip truck did you just get off of?" It was for just being Ron Paul, I guess. So, I thought, why not change my name to Ron Paul and quit pushing the real estate string?

Then I thought, changing my name to Ron Paul might be absolutely Ron Paullian! First, I'd have to cancel all my credit cards and other debt and tell my creditors since I'm now Ron Paul, the debt isn't mine. Then I'd have to go out and get all new credit cards under my new name. This pretty well sums up his monetary policy, and I can see why people would pay him $1.8 million so they can all do that.

Next is the problem of my children's names. Ron Paul named his son after South African currency, the rand. I don't know if my kids would like to be called, say, Peso, Yuan and Lira, but it's definitely worth asking.

Because, hey. I can go on with this, but if someone out there wants to hand out $1.8 million because they'd rather have Ron Paul than their money, I'll stand in line. I can be their guy!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What the Hell Were They Doing There, Anyway?

Of course, I mean the three Americans who went hiking in Kurdistan, somewhere along the Iraq-Iran border, and were snatched by Iranian authorities and charged with espionage.
On July 31, 2009, Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd, who had decided to go for a nice hike on oh, say, the Iraq-Iran border in a war zone, were arrested by the Iranians and ultimately charged with espionage. Ms. Shourd was later freed on $500,000 bail. Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal have just been found guilty and were sentenced to eight years in prison.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't for one second believe the Iranians. I even pretty much think the Iranian border patrol crossed the border into Iraq to make the snatch, probably at gunpoint. But Jesus, what in the hell were these Americans doing there? What in hell were they thinking?
I get that it's Kurdistan, and that Kurdistan is different from Iraq, not the least of which is that the Turks have been shelling the place and running air strikes. Whatever else it might be, Kurdistan is not on Conde Nast's or Lonely Planet's list of don't-miss vacation places.
These three are not dummies. Mr. Bauer is an honors graduate from U.C. Berkeley, speaks Arabic. Mr. Fattal is also a Berkley graduate, in environmental economics. Ms. Shourd, also a Berkeley graduate, taught English in Syria, where she was living with Mr. Bauer.
Here are the reasons given. Believe what you will.
  1. They were spies.
  2. Mr. Bauer was a freelance journalist working on a story about the elections in Kurdistan.
  3. Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal were intensely curious about the entire Middle East and were willing to be live-off-the-land travelers to satisfy and insatiable quest for knowledge and understanding.

Cut them all the slack you want. Okay, they lived in Syria and somehow supported themselves. It was time to go out on a knowledge quest. Ms. Shourd had a week off from her teaching duties, so why not. Choices, among others:

  1. Turkey
  2. Jordan
  3. Saudi Arabia

Hmm. As the crow flies from Damascus, where they were living, to the point in Kurdistan where they were nabbed, it looks to be about 1,000 miles. In that part of the world, traveling that far is, well, hard. It's not like they have interstates. It's not like you can get a Eurailpass. And for a week?

A hike in Kurdistan was the agreed-on best option?

Back to the title: What in the hell were they doing there, anyway?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How to End The Financial Crisis (or Great Recession or Whatever We Call It)

I've been casting about for months for ways to save the world's financial system. It seems to be getting worse and the people in charge don't seem to be doing anything.
One of the problems, a guy on Bloomberg said, is that no one wants to buy anything. People and businesses are still shedding debt. This is called "de-leveraging."

Well, I say we need to leverage. That's what we did before and it seemed to work. In sort, we all need to go out and buy stuff. And don't pay cash. Charge it. Here's why.

Our economy--the world's actually--only works when American consumers do what they do best--consume. It's fun. Don't you remember how fun it was? We replaced our television set last week and the old endomorphins spiked like they hadn't in years. So let's do it. Let's roll! We all need to go out and run our credit cards up to the max.

Okay, okay. So, what if, you say, the credit card bill comes due and we can't pay it?

Easy. Nothing. Don't pay it. What're they gonna do? Take your house? Turn you over to collections? Wreck your credit rating? Who cares? I say "who cares," because if we all go on a big spending splurge and it doesn't turn the economy around, we'll be so bad off it won't matter.

Ok, some banks might get stuck, but they never get really stuck, so we know that won't happen. Americans will simply raise their individual debt ceilings and instead of TARP--Troubled Asset Relief Program--Congress will pass the Consumer Relief Arrears Program, known as CRAP.
Under CRAP we can simply
Look. Big lenders borrowed money from the fed and made crummy loans to homeowners. They sold the loans to Wall Street and paid back the Fed. Then, one day, Wall Street didn't buy what lenders were selling, and the lenders couldn't pay the Fed back. TARP to the rescue.

So leverage up, I say. If Congress gave big banks TARP, I have no doubt they'll give us CRAP if things don't work out as planned.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The TV, the Recorder and the Vast Cable Conspiracy

Two weeks ago, our television died. It had given seven years of reasonably reputable service, but it just quit in the middle of "House." We ran out the next day and bought a new television. Under $400, and better than the one that died, which had cost around $600 or so.

We tried to install the new Samsung on our old universal wall mount, only to learn that nothing would fit. The manual said we'd have to buy a Samsung wall mount for around $125--a little over 1/4 the price of the TV. The Best Buy guy said, "Oh, hmmh." The True Value guy said, "Hmmh," when his $100 mount wouldn't work, either. We thought, piss on it, and just set the thing on top of the cable box.

A couple of Netflix DVDs were laying wround, and we'd thought to watch them since Netflix had decided to screw over its mail order customers, whose club we held membership in. However, our DVD player would not connect to the Samsung. We needed a different cable to connect the DVD with the new television.

Undaunted, we set out for Best Buy to buy an adapter, which, as best as I can discern, would connect an S-video connection to an HDTV (specifically, an HDMI port). Well, these did not exist. Roland, a Comcast guy doing double duty at Best Buy, told us that.

We had Roland because the Best Buy people were more interested in talking to each other than they were talking to us. As inexplicable as this seems, you would totally understand that Roland was the preferred alternative, since the Best Buy help was more interested in talking to each other on those scant times when they were around.

After talking with Roland, we determined that we'd have to buy a new DVR, or some other movie-playing device. Roland explained our options and then looked at us as though we were two clueless grayhairs. We had graduated from an adapter to a new movie player, but Roland was already at the next level.

We looked back at Roland as though we were two clueless grayhairs. Roland looked at his paperwork. Clearly, we were on the same page, here.

I will not go into the specifics of our rather discursive discussion, but we ended up buying a Samsung Blue-Ray thing which can both play our DVDs as well as stream movies from Netflix and Blockbuster. That sounded cool, even though this would address an issue we never knew existed.

HDMI cables alone were priced from about $60 to $90. The Blue Ray, at $150, seemed to deliver so much more. Except, Roland said, we'd also need a router.

We had a router, I said. An N-router, or a G-router? Roland wondered. A G-router, he said, won't do. A G-router, I said, and Roland pilled his chin and said, "Hmmm."

"Hmmm" offers little in the way of security, especially with a chin pull and inordinate attention to whatever is on the ceiling. We beat it for the router department, buying the $80 one instead of the $40 dollar one so we could be sure that our devices would all network properly.

I forgot to say we'd moved our computers to the bottom level of our tri-level rowhome,even as the printer remained on the third level. And Roland had convinced us of the wonders of Comcast Digital Voice--internet telephone--to replace our current Frontier service and throw in HBO and Encore without a price increase.

All this for a damned cable adapter?

And, oh, the killer: I tried to install the Samsung Blu-ray player, but learned it wouldn't work without an HDMI cable, which, in the butt-reaming verbiage of the owner's manual, "must be purchased separately."

Best Buy's HDMI cables ran from$50 to $80, as I said. Newegg had them for about $3.50, but you had to order them online. But Facebook to the rescue!

Ricki, then Ben York recommended far cheaper (and better and local) places to go. [Editor's note: If you have computer hardware, software, networking, website work or presence issues and can't or don't want to deal with it, contact Ben York immediately before you assassinate your friends and family. Thoroughly competent and reasonably priced.]

But Melissa Denton, friend and client, also called, and had an extra leftover HDMI cable. For free. She offered to drop it off the next morning.