Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Daily Coyote

Shreve Stockton is a writer and photographer who has transplanted herself from NYC to a 12X12 cabin in Wyoming. In 2007, she was given a coyote pup, 10 days old, by a cowboy who'd just orphaned the pup by killing its parents and siblings (for his government job to protect cattle from coyotes) and who later becomes her boyfriend. She's raising the coyote, Charlie, and lives with him. She chronicled their first year in a book, The Daily Coyote, which I have not read. She also blogs about the experience here, with lots more pictures (beautiful pictures) than text. I recommend starting from the beginning, to enjoy watching Charlie grow up. Among other fascinating things, the coyote gets along great with her cat. Of course, there's plenty of criticism out there for her for raising a wild animal and for pimping out the coyote (besides the book, she sells calendars and T-shirts), and for giving (crazy) people the impression they should raise coyotes too (she strongly discourages this). I'm suspending judgment and just enjoying the beautiful photography of coyotes and Wyoming.

Book report: All the King’s Men

This was a book club pick that I wasn’t all that excited to read, but I’m glad we did. It’s a classic of contemporary American fiction and It has been a gap in my literary education but now I’ll know what people mean when they reference this.

Set in the 1920’s in a Southern state, it’s loosely based on Huey Long’s political operation in Louisiana. Ostensibly, the main character is Willie Stark who begins as a small-time politician used by the state political machine to its own ends and rises to become governor and the boss of his own ruthless corrupt political machine. Willie’s corruption is different from the machine he’s supplanted; he’s doing it for the good of the people and he secures cooperation by threatening to divulge others’ secrets rather than offering them cash.

The real main character, though, is the narrator, Jack Burden, who tells us Willie’s story. Jack reveals his own story along the way and we get to know him through his observations and long and intricate descriptions of things.

It reminds me a smidge of Virginia Woolf (with the stream of consciousness narration), a little bit of Catcher in the Rye (Jack and Holden are similarly emotionally disconnected from the worlds they describe), with a splash of noir with some mystery, patter in the dialogue, and deliciously overwrought metaphors on every page, a few of which have graced the subhead recently. The metaphors alone are reason to read the book. I may have used this as a subhead, but I’ve forgotten, and it’s worth enjoying again anyway:
Duffy was face to face with the margin of mystery where all our calculations collapse, where the stream of time dwindles into the sands of eternity, where the formula fails in the test tube, where chaos and old night hold sway and we hear the laughter in the ether dream.

It won the Pulitzer in 1947. Two movies have been made of it, one in 1949 and one in 2006. The 2006 version (Sean Penn, Jude Law) was on Ebert's list of the worst movies of 2006.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

I normally stay away from any and all things "Oprah". Had I known that this was an Oprah Book Club selection, I might not have asked for this for Christmas. But, it got great reviews and was set in rural, northern Wisconsin. Since we recently purchased land in northern Wisconsin, I was interested.

This is a long book (560+ pages) and is rather slow. Not boring slow, but slow. It held my interest through-out, whether in the description of the training of the dogs they raised, the bond between mother and child, the bond between child and family "pet", the description of life in a remote setting, the portrait of the landscape and sounds and smells of that part of Wisconsin.

I had read a blurb somewhere that the author has been approached to write a sequel; sadly (I thought), I read this before I had finished the book. So I was somewhat (though in a strange way) pleasantly surprised at the ending. In what way the author would write a sequel is enough to ensure I check it out if in fact he writes one.

I think both of my fellow contributors would love this book, if for no other reason than being dog lovers/owners. The setting in the NW part of Wisconsin should be familiar enough to Stephanie; for Scooter, well no guns, but lots and lots of dogs.

Friday, January 02, 2009

GM, Chrysler and Treasury v. Ford

When I heard about the GMAC bailout, I didn’t connect the dots. Per the WSJ, what a slap in Ford’s face:

When the Bush Treasury decided to bail out Detroit, GM and Chrysler quickly said yes to the taxpayer cash, but Ford Motor Co. said it didn't need the money and declined. Ford's reward for this show of self-reliance? Treasury is now helping GM again by giving it a credit pricing advantage against Ford in the marketplace.

That's one little-noted result of Treasury's action earlier this week to rescue GMAC, the GM credit arm that, as it happens, is 51% owned by the Cerberus private-equity shop that also owns Chrysler. With $5 billion in taxpayer cash in its pocket, GMAC quickly decided to offer 0% financing on several of its models. "I think it would be fair to say that without this change . . . we would not be able to do this today," explained GM Vice President Mark LaNeve in a conference call with reporters this week.

This is always what happens when politicians decide to muck around in private industry. Even when made with the best intentions, their policy decisions have unintended consequences that help some companies at the expense of others. Meanwhile, your neighbor who buys a GM SUV this weekend with 0% financing should thank you when he pulls into the driveway. He did it with your money.

An Austin Legend passes

Feel like an active, community oriented/interested person? You just think you are. A fellow lion Willie Kocurek passed away yesterday. I met and talked to him a few times through Lions but I certainly couldn’t call him anything more than an acquaintance.

Just some snippets from today’s Austin American Statesman:

Willie Kocurek, a former Austin school board president, merchant and bow-tie-wearing pitchman recognized as a tireless civic advocate, died Thursday of natural causes at the Westminster Manor retirement home. He was 98.

Kocurek, who had an elementary school in Southwest Austin named for him in 1986, was known for his gracious personality and can-do spirit. He spent his life advocating for a variety of causes, including care for the elderly and education. He was a perpetual student, entering law school at age 67 and starting a practice at age 70.

"He didn't stick to one theme and one passion," said Joyce Lauck, executive director of Austin Groups for the Elderly, which Kocurek co-founded in 1986 to provide resources to seniors. "Underlying all of it was care and concern and making the community better."
Kocurek remained vigorous throughout most of his life, also working as a banker into his 90s.
His slogans "Where there's a Willie, there's a way" and "You don't need money, just a little bit a month," as well as hand-drawn Mr. K. newspaper ads, led him to be called one of the most visible and often-quoted men in town.
A newer generation of Austinites knew him on the airwaves as a promoter of education.
"He knew everybody and everybody knew Willie; he was friendly to everybody," said one of Kocurek's grandchildren, Dr. Jeffrey Kocurek, an Austin urologist. "I have patients come into my office every day saying 'I met your grandfather. Your grandfather gave me credit when no one else would."

Kocurek served on the Austin school board from 1946 to 1954, the last four years as board president. In recent decades he offered his quasi-celebrity to the Austin school district as an advocate for school bond referendums, appearing on television to urge Austinites to approve the measures at the polls.

Eventually, he bought that service station and expanded it from a place that sold gas and lube jobs to what became the Willie Kocurek Co. Kocurek also began wearing a leather bow tie.
"The reason it was leather was oil could be wiped off," he recalled once. That evolved into red cloth bow ties sewn by his wife Maurine, an Austin native whom he married in 1934.
Indeed, Kocurek enrolled at the University of Texas School of Law in 1977. He had gone to law school in 1943, but his work schedule and service in the U.S. Navy during World World II interrupted his studies.

In the 1980s, Kocurek chaired the Austin school district's Forming the Future long-range planning project, which involved 14,000 Austinites developing goals and building plans for the district. From that came a $210 million bond issue that voters passed overwhelmingly in 1983.
He later chaired an $80 million bond election drive for the school district in 1986.
J.P. Kirksey, past president of the Austin Founders Lions Club, a group Kocurek belonged to since 1939, once told the American-Statesman: "He gave an unselfish sharing of himself."

The last Cotton Bowl at the Cotton Bowl

To continue my sports theme for the past 2 days, I thought I would mention the Cotton Bowl game to be played today. Ole Miss vs Texas Tech. Normally, I would be for the SEC team (Ole Miss), but for reasons too complicated to go into, I'm rooting for a BIG TT win today.

I also won't get into the whole thing about why the game won't be played in Dallas or the Cotton Bowl stadium anymore. My interest is about why is the game being played on January 2, instead of the traditional Jan 1 date? It's a work day for most and the game will be over around 4-5pm, which will help nicely with the Friday afternoon traffic mess that is bad enough without adding 70,000 more folks around Fair Park. Nice planning. I guess they want everyone to get used to the traffic hell that will happen at the new "Jerry World" stadium in Arlington - a stadium that will hold between 85,000 to 100,000 (depending on the event) with even less parking and traffic flow options.

So long Cotton Bowl as we knew you - we'll miss you (maybe).

Thursday, January 01, 2009

NHL Winter Classic

The NHL played their 3rd Winter Classic (outdoor game on 1/1) today at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Chicago Blackhawks vs the Detroit Red Wings. My interest in this was two-fold. First, C and I are BIG Wings fans and second, watching outdoor hockey. Since I grew up in Houston, I don't get the whole outdoor hockey thing, but it was obvious that it was a very big deal to the players. The skating wasn't as smooth and fast as you see with indoor games (ice conditions and the wind in Chicago toady played a big role in that), but it was a very entertaining game. Big hits, lot of goals, great saves. The only thing missing, as in most NHL games these days, was a fight.

I posted this last picture to show the uniforms the teams were wearing today, especially the Wings. This was the uniform they wore during their first season in the NHL, back in the 1920's. I liked the shirt, but the socks are awful. The Detroit players described them as "Dr. Seuss uniforms", which is a very accurate description.

The Wings won 6-4. All-in-all a great day for hockey fans.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

If you Google

If you search for "Smith & Wesson Model 56" on Google, Scooter's post is the top entry:

Update: Wondering if that's what everyone gets for that search result, or if somehow Google's results are tailored based on one's viewing habits.

Our first 2009 reader

Was from India. S/he was looking at the Smith & Wesson post. Proof is here.

Village Voice just lost a reader...

since they just let Nat Hentoff go per the NYT. Never quite figured out how he fit in there: pro-life and anti-Castro; I guess they kept him around because of his strong voice against the African genocides.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Book Report

Finished listening to Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor by Anthony Everitt. About 13 disks. Loved the first 10. I always love the Julian story and learned a lot more about Antony and Cleopatra but got bogged down in the last 10 years or so of Augustin's empire. Not the author's fault; it was the subject matter.

Have also read Greg Iles's True Evil at the behest of one of our former contributor's spouse. Airport fiction at its best until the denouement. Hated the action ending after a reasonably intellectual joust between the protag and the antag.

Facebook Christians of Kosovo

From City Journal:


"Here people are Muslims, but they think like Europeans," says Xhabir Hamiti, a professor in the Islamic studies department at the University of Pristina in Kosovo's capital. "Muslims here identify themselves as Muslim Lite," an American police officer tells me. As Afrim Kostrati, a young bartender, puts it: "We are Muslims, but not really." And Luan Berisha, an entrepreneur, agrees: "We were never practicing Muslims like they are in the Middle East. . . . First of all, we are Albanians. Religion comes second."

Many Kosovars are starting to convert "back" to Christianity. Café owner Gazi Berlajolli ascribes the trend partly to American influence. "Most of these people were atheists and agnostics, but they don't want to be seen as atheist Muslims," Berlajolli adds. "So they needed to convert to something else. They want to be able to put `Christian' on their pages on Facebook."

Update: I posted those paragraphs because I couldn’t get beyond “Muslim Lite”, “Facebook” and “young [Muslim] bartender” but the article is well worth reading.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Like a snake eating itself

From TPM:
Treasury also said it will lend up to $1 billion to General Motors so that the company can purchase additional equity that GMAC is planning to offer as part of its effort to raise more capital.

And oh, by the way:
Last week, the Federal Reserve approved GMAC's application to become a bank holding company, which made it eligible to receive money from the financial rescue fund. The Fed's approval was contingent on GMAC raising additional capital.