All Wheel Drive Anxiety

I apologize.

You see when it snows like this – you know, constant, fine, light snow, the roads get slippery and when you hit the gas you slip and slide.

You sit and spin.

The thing is…ever since I got this car with all-wheel-drive, when I hit the gas, I just go.

Rain, snow, small animals, volcanic ash. Nothing can stop me!

Yes!!! It’s like I’m a God!!!!!

Lord of the Lanes! Baron of the Boulevard! Potentate of the Interstate!

Four-wheeled power – an advantage, right?! Sure…if you’re not in front of me when the light turns green.

And when you are, I get so very anxious. I’ve become an all-wheel-drive snob and I’m not proud of it.

“C’mon! Letsgo letsgo letsgo letsgo letsgo letsgo letsgo letsgo letsgo! What?! Are you paid by the hour!!!”

(not that there’s anything wrong with that)

It’s like being the guy that gets frustrated and everyone thinks is so annoying because his Mensa IQ affords him the luxury of “getting” things so much quicker, but then he has to wait until everyone else catches up while he rolls his eyes.

He’s not the one that gets the girl, is he.

Like that insipid commercial for AT&T where the portly passenger with the fastest network gets the download quicker than everyone else in the car, and laughs out loud. Thirty more seconds go by and the rest of the passengers get the download and do the same.

They’re the popular ones. They’re late, but having all the fun.

It’s lonely at the top.

This winter we’ve had way more than our share of snow and as a result we’ve been sitting in lines, three lanes wide, like cattle in a slaughter line, waiting waiting waiting to get to the office or home.

And there I sit, with the power to go go go!!!  …if it weren’t for the 1985 Crown Vic in front of me.

It’s like a curse.

God I miss my Harley.


I’m not going to say that the most frustrating arguments are the ones where your opponent reduces your case to its most absurd extreme.

You:  I think it’d be fun to go to Burger King.

Opponent:  Why do you hate McDonald’s?

You get used to arguments like this if you have junior high kids, psychotic neighbors…

…and if you’re a conservative blogger.

Penigma, writing at Penigma, kinda goes there in a piece that eventually gets around to its real point, his thesis that government regulation had NOTHING to do with the meltdown of the financial system.

I said eventually.  He leads off by accusing me of sophistry, which is fine but incomplete (I got to sophistry after freshmanstry.  But then I proceeded to juniorstry and seniorstry), and more or less irrelevant – because unlike so much that goes on at SITD, it’s not about me.  It’s about my longtime blog associate Johnny Roosh:

JR apparently holds some sort of position in financial services, and has described himself as being a “financial planner.” We’ve asked a few times what licensure he holds (Series 7 would be pretty standard) – but he hasn’t answered.

Nor should he.  It’s nobody’s business.  I’ll vouch for Roosh’s credentials as a financial planner – he’s got golf clubs, even!

Now, Penigma does skirt close to a serious point, here.  I’ve bagged on anonymous bloggers.  But the problem is the ones that use their anonymity to take cheap, defamatory personal shots at other people while shielding themselves from consequences.  There are a few of them in the Twin Cities leftyblogging community; fearless about going after other people, but queasy about their blogging affecting their day jobs.  My answer has always been that nobody should write anything for which they’re not ready for the real consequences under their real name.  Roosh (and First Ringer, another SITD writer who stays under the radar for vocational reasons) meet that standard.  Otherwise I’d have never invited them to join SITD.

And as it happens, Roosh’s “anonymous” (but, I assure you, extant) credentials have no bearing on the issue in Penigma’s piece.

But since we’re on the subject, Penigma claims second-hand expertise on the subject at hand:

I can’t claim to be a great expert on financial services – I work in investment banking, dealing with large cash movement and the reasons for the appetite (or lack) of banks for deposits and the desires of brokers to make ‘spread revenue’ with the cash they have on hand. But, I DO work with some people who are VERY experienced in financial services, people reasonably well-known on Wall Street.

Now, Roosh’s license as a financial planner doesn’t necessarily make him an expert on macroeconomics in and of itself; being literate about economics does.

But claiming to know all sorts of well-known people on Wall Street – Republicans, no less! – is another thing altogether.  So it’d be useful for Penigma to provide the names of these Wall Street sources, so that people can gauge their, and his, credibility.

Because so much of what they (via Penigma, natch) say beggars reason so completely.

I’m not sure he is properly licensed, and frequently he makes comments which belie the suspicion that he is not, for he, like our former pest troll KR, claims that it was governmental regulation which caused the recent econimic meltdown/catastrophe.

This takes us back to my first paragraph; Penigma has reduced Roosh’s argument (and mine, and King Banaian’s, and that of virtually every conservative with an interest in the issue) to an absurdly simple, and utterly misleading thesis, which Penigma helpfully reprises:

Yet, when you want to hate the government, you look for any excuse.

Never chalk up to “hate” what can be better explained by “reason”.

I don’t know a whole lot of people, outside of blog comments, who say that government regulation, alone and by itself, caused the meltdown.

But it’s a simple fact that behind each of the factors that Penigma cites that Penigma’s powerful but anonymous Wall Street friends cite for the meltdown, the hand of the Fed lurks.

2. People were overly incented to do deals – so they did bad deals when the good deals ran out.
Some of these kinds of deals were:
a. Many companies sold their bad debts off to other companies packaged up into deals with many parts, claiming they were good investments (i.e. derivatives)


And what incented companies to go for these deals?

The fact that government, via a series of initiatives during the Clinton and Bush administraitons – promised to underwrite the deals.

b. Other companies effectively sold their debt exposure (insurance against loss) telling the buyer they were good ideas to hold the risk (Credit Default Swaps).

And what was the initial impetus for these sales?

The government mandate, driven by Clinton/Bush-era legislation, for Fannie and Freddie to underwrite all this debt.

c. Still more companies bet long with what was supposed to be ‘low risk’ money – namely money market funds. When their bets failed, the underlying money fund collapsed.

Why was the money supposedly low-risk?  Because the government artificially lowered the risk.

d. Still MORE companies wrote mortgages with zero income to debt requirements, or wrote HELOCs with equity percentages above 100%, or agreed upon mortgages with HUGE balloon payments that they should have had zero expectation the customer would be able to pay when the interest rate or the balloon shot up.

And why did these companies change their policies?

Because the government mandated Fannie and Freddie assume the risk!

Second – Wall Street knows it full well too. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone worth a damn actually blame CRA

Well, perhaps among Penigma’s legions of powerful-yet-anonymous Republican friends on Wall Street.

Elsewhere?  Not so much.

Note to Penigma:  please provide the names and credentials of anyone laughing.

Audio, too.

Breakfast In The Dark

Last Saturday was the first-ever Shot In The Dark “Staff Meeting”.  This blog’s staff – which has doubled in the past year to four – met at “Hell’s Kitchen” in Minneapolis (the nearly-liquid scrambled eggs take some getting used to, but the wild-rice hash browns are proof God loves us).

There was no agenda, nobody took minutes, and nothing was decided.  But it was fun getting the whole crew together for, as far as I can recall, the first time ever.

The Pigeons Rose Into the Air

I was seventeen years old. My grandmother was born in Italy and had always wanted to go back. Just weeks after her husband, my grandfather died, she decided it was time. He never wanted to fly and she had long since given up on trying to drag him along. This was her chance and I’d be her guest. A three and a half week tour of the homeland.

The Pope gave an audience in St. Peter’s square every Wednesday and we of course had tickets. My grandmother, a member of Northeast Minneapolis’ aristocracy of restaurateurs, must also have had connections within The Vatican. Our seats were only a few rows back from where his holiness would sit, once the Popemobile made it’s customary circuit around the interior of the square, packed with hundreds of thousands of cheering believers and tourists. Little did we know it was this day in May 1981 that Pope John Paul II would not address the animated crowd.

The Pope entered the square off in a corner, far from our post. We caught brief glimpses of his white robe and matching (and then unprotected) Jeep through the crowd. We otherwise followed him audibly as the cheers rose and fell as he traveled counter clockwise under a beautiful blue sky, through the outer bounds of the open air square, framed by rows of aged, towering and historic white columns.

I would guess he was about three quarters through his route, behind the columns in the round section of the keyhole-shaped space when the pigeons rose into the air, startled by something beyond our perception. The look on my grandmothers face conveyed her immediate concern.

Seconds later we heard the delayed pop of one of what we would learn later was a quick salvo of five shots, the other four muffled by closely packed onlookers. It sounded like a firecracker. At first we thought it was a prank, maybe someone had smuggled one into the square. It was the distant, ominous wail of women and children screaming that informed us something much more serious was afoot.

Mr. Agca shot the pope on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square, wounding him in the stomach, left hand and right arm.

The haunting sound grew in volume as the crowd became informed exponentially and traveled ominously from the point of impact to my distant perch as I stood on my chair, a typical teen-aged stance. From my vantage point I was startled to see a subsequent wave approaching through the throngs as the crowd instinctively dropped to their knees in prayer for their fallen magnate. I stood on my chair, alone, as everyone else around me fell to the bricks until just behind me, a priest, in Italian but clearly in disgust, scolded me while he horse-collared me to the ground, and implored me to pray as well.

Two years later, the Pope visited Mr. Agca in a an Italian prison and offered forgiveness.

Which is how long it seemed to take to get out of St. Peter’s square as sobbing Christians, uninformed as to their beloved Pope’s prognosis, made their way to the exits under the constant buzzing of helicopters overhead and caribinieri straining to secure and clear the area.

We made it back to our flat in Rome where the magnitude of what we had witnessed was revealed by worldwide television coverage of what would be one of the biggest global news events that year. We were glued to the screen as if we had been a thousand miles away. The fact that it had been a few hundred feet wouldn’t sink in until we were back home, weeks later.

The phone rang that night at two or three in the morning and we heard our host, a distant cousin, in Italian, clearly irritated by the disruption. It was when I heard him call out “Giovani! Telefono!” that I knew, curiously, the call was for me.

KSTP News was on the other end of the crackling line. Reporters had discovered we were the only Minnesotan’s in the square that day and they wanted an interview. I would find out later from my friends back home that my account of the incident was actually live on the air. It was probably better that I didn’t know it at the time.

The next three weeks of our trip was of course relatively uneventful as we visited the rest of Rome, touring Naples, Florence and Venice as well as the childhood home of my grandmother, reduced to remnants of a foundation by wars and the passage of time.

Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish man who shot and wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981, was released from a Turkish prison on Monday proclaiming that he was “the Christ eternal” after serving jail terms totaling 29 years.

Pope John Paul II miraculously recovered, forgave his would-be assassin, and served for over twenty more years. My grandmother passed away a few years after our pilgrimage.  I am grateful she chose me to accompany her on her last and only journey back to her home town.

Road King

On Thursday and Friday, email and voicemail will be on Autopilot as I roam the hills and bends of Minnesota and Wisconsin, avoiding nature’s fury on a bike I haven’t tried before.

The 2009 Road King, courtesy of Hopkins Hitching Post.

Don’t call me I’ll call you.

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike.

Being self-employed has it’s trade-offs.

On one hand, 10 AM this morning, writing sizeable checks to “Minnesota Revenue” and the “US Treasury” – an oxymoron if ever there was one.

On the other: home early, by my own volition, to ride my bike for the first time this season. On a sunny, 70-degree day in April…in Minnesota no less.

It’s a fair trade.

Bring It On

I’m ready.

I have a thirty-year-old snow blower that starts with one pull.

…a half bag of Starbucks.

…two four-wheel-drive cars.

…a shack full of firewood.

…a battery-powered AM radio to listen to Mitch & Ed.

…a scanner to listen to the mayhem.

…a drawer full of Ramen Noodles

….a lovely wife who happens to love shoveling snow (seriously).

…a forty-degree hill; three kids; three sleds.

…and my Christmas shopping is done.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

…as long as it’s gonna be cold it might as well be white.


Dick Schulze: Capitalist; Hero

Best Buy founder gives U $40M for diabetes research

The University of Minnesota said today it will receive $40 million for diabetes research from the foundation of Best Buy founder Richard Schulze in what appears to be the second-largest gift in the university’s history.

The money, which will be paid over five years, is also thought to be nationally the second-largest diabetes research donation by an individual or foundation.

My youngest daughter is a Type-1 diabetic.

Thank you Mr. Schulze. I will never ever not shop for anything at Best Buy again.

A Matter of Pride

Since I was a boy I have had a fascination with cars. I made them with my Legos. We’d set four folding chairs in the yard and imagine we were on road trips. My neighborhood buddy and I sketched countless pictures of them. Always set in action, with smoking rear wheels, quarter panels repleat with flames and pipes and vents and the requisite jack job on the back with over sized rear wheels.

…and always decidedly American.

When I was a kid, imports were “Jap Crap.”

It didn’t matter that my Dad’s brand new company car, a then downsized 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme was a gutless piece of crap with a V6 that was as smooth and as powerful as a coffee grinder and paint that came from the factory looking like it had already baked in the sun for a few years.

No one considered the Japanese playas yet.

My first car was a used 1973 Ford Pinto Squire Wagon, with yes, you guessed it, the woody decals and plastic “wood” trim down the flanks. $1,100; borrowed from the bank. What a piece of shit that car was…but it was mine all mine.

Lucky for me, girls didn’t seem to care if your car was cool. It was enough that you had one.

Continue reading

A Walk in Paradise

This morning I found myself taking stock of all the adventures I have had in my adult life. Most recently, I have walked Broadway in New York from the depths of Ground Zero through the blaze of Times Square to the greenery of Central Park and the Upper West Side. I’ve hiked the historic streets of Washington DC, the white sand beaches of Kaanapali and Grand Cayman and floated in the mist under Niagara Falls.

While I am fortunate to have the means and opportunity to have gathered these vivid and treasured memories it was the mundane setting of the stacks of dry goods and produce under the grid of fluorescence at Cub Foods this morning that underscored their only common denominator.

It was there that I found myself flush with gratitude and good fortune as I watched my wife pluck a small jar of sea salt from the shelf.

Wise men know that no one bears the the scars of our existence more willingly or ably than our brides. I’ve always said “Show me a successful man and I will show you a man that married well.”

It is the dividends of a marriage to a wonderful woman, undeservedly so I might add, that make even the most prosaic activities a bounty to my being. I am in awe of the fierce but gentle love and concern she has for her brood and the tolerance she has for my foibles, not the least of which, my ego.

If I were King, she would be the crown that legitimizes my station.

As we walked the sterile isles of Cub, our over-burdened cart informing of the three at home, I realized how hard it will be someday when the littlest leaves the nest but at the same time looked forward to having her to myself again some day.

…and that is what I am thankful for this season.