Saturday, March 29, 2008

inspector in oz

Crow here. Ahh, back on the branch and ready to relate recent discoveries. There were a few close calls but I still have enough quills in my quiver to jot down a few notes and maybe give you a couple of surprises. Most of the following comes from a book called 'Web of Debt" by Ellen Hodgson Brown. Crows are smart but not known for economic literacy.

You've all heard of 'The Wizard of Oz'. Now I've never read it, since having eyes on the sides of my head doesn't make reading easy, but I have seen the movie. What I learned this week is that L. Frank Baum wrote the book as a parable of Populism and an economic allegory way back in 1900:

"The Wizard of Oz" . . . was written at a time when American society was consumed by the debate over the "financial question," that is, the creation and circulation of money. . . . The characters of "The Wizard of Oz" represented those deeply involved in the debate: the Scarecrow as the farmers, the Tin Woodman as the industrial workers, the Lion as silver advocate William Jennings Bryan and Dorothy as the archetypal American girl.

"The 1890s were plagued by an economic depression that was nearly as severe as the Great Depression of the 1930s. The farmers lived like serfs to the bankers, having mortgaged their farms, their equipment, and sometimes even the seeds they needed for planting. They were charged so much by a railroad cartel for shipping their products to market that they could have more costs and debts than profits. The farmers were as ignorant as the Scarecrow of banking policies; while in the cities, unemployed factory workers were as frozen as the Tin Woodman from the lack of a free-flowing supply of money to "oil" the wheels of industry. In the early 1890s, unemployment had reached 20 percent. The crime rate soared, families were torn apart, racial tensions boiled. The nation was in chaos. Radical party politics thrived.

"In every presidential election between 1872 and 1896, there was a third national party running on a platform of financial reform. Typically organized under the auspices of labor or farmer organizations, these were parties of the people rather than the banks. They advocated expanding the national currency to meet the needs of trade, reform of the banking system, and democratic control of the financial system."

Does this sound similar to the problems current in our time? It just goes to show that the international bankers managed to find (fund?) deep cover for themselves in the past hundred years but they're still very much here.

The Yellow Brick Road represented the gold standard which was a severely restricted commodity held by the international banks. The gold standard was what was used by them to keep money in short supply. The Populists preferred the idea of a silver standard since that metal was much easier to obtain and in the book Dorothy's shoes were silver (ruby was for the first movie in color). The Emerald City was green because it related to green paper money shackled to the gold standard. Overall, what the Populists wanted was that the government take back the right to issue the country's money supply. Nowadays only the coins we carry are public currency. The dollar bills, bank balances, and credit debt are all created by private banks writing in figures on their screens or in their ledgers. Every time a new loan is issued what they do is add a number to your account. The money doesn't come from anywhere else nor is it backed by anything visible in the real world. This is true everywhere.

Being a birdbrain means that although I'm quite capable of counting the eggs in my nest and knowing when one's missing, it's difficult to keep a count of everyone else's eggs and sparkly bits. I will keep up the investigations on your behalf as well as my own.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

a little bird told me

Crow here.. incognito. You wouldn't necessarily think there are any advantages to being a crow but it certainly is an asset to my role as an international investigator of economic shenanigans. For one thing, my spies and pinioned minions can go anywhere with ease - no expensive airplane flights, no hotel fees and no getting ripped off by local guides. We're on the air as it were. Even better, who is going to pay attention to my brothers in the branches of trees overlooking fancy outdoor restaurants and garden parties? You would be unlikely to get near Bretton Woods but we have nested there for time out of mind. The only carbon footprint we leave is the one you might find on your jacket if you're unlucky enough to stroll beneath our boughs at an inopportune moment.

I've learned about a place you'd never guess would have a better national economic plan than the one you currently labor under but just so you don't get too depressed let me introduce you to Bhutan where they have what you might refer to as an 'enlightened' financial policy:

Instead of Gross National Product or GNP, what the Bhutanese have is called Gross National Happiness or GNH. Really.

To be brief the country has 40 Buddhist lamas who are 'calculators". For 1500 years they've used a book of mathematical and astronomical formulae. After meditating on the questions people bring to them they devise investment plans.

* "We call the economic model Gross National Happiness and, after 30 years of applying this ancient principle, we've discovered it's more important than Gross Domestic Product,'' says the prime minister whose name means thunderbolt in Dzongkha, the national language.

"GNH is a method of balancing sustainable growth against the often damaging results of rampant wealth,'' Dorji adds. "Keeping that balance is the most difficult challenge facing any global leader.'' *

Now hold on to your feathers while I mention a couple of things. Their stock market bell rings only on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 11:00am and when the four stockbrokers are done the market closes. They only harvest 2000 megawatts of their potential 10,000 megawatts of hydroelectric power since conservation is more important than the profit to be made selling electricity to India and China. The country has only one ATM for all 700,000 people and they don't need more. Their per capita income is much higher than that in nearby nations and their schools, hospitals and public services are growing.

The chief executive officer of the bank of Bhutan says, "I have no doubts that Western banks consider us to be primitives,'' Tshering laughs. "By their standards, a profit mandate is more important than a social mandate. Subprime occurred simply because lenders packaged irresponsibility and sold it off to the highest bidder.''

Just a little reminder that things having to do with money don't necessarily have to bad. Now I'd better get the head under the wing so I'll be sharp for further investigating.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

inspector crow wonders

It's no secret we're in the midst of some very serious economic difficulties and questions have arisen as to who is to blame. Over the course of the past weeks I've read some very valid posts pertaining to the fact that we are responsible and, while that fact has a certain ring of truth in that we in the western democracies, and the US in particular, do indeed buy the most stuff and waste irreplaceable resources to an extraordinary degree, we are victims of a system and sometimes enablers of a system whose roots are deep and dark. We are not to blame because we need money to live. There are many factors about why you might choose to buy a particular house in a particular neighborhood and if the house down the street from your parents now costs $250k rather than the $25k they paid for theirs, you aren't the one who made that happen. Not even George Bush, nasty as he is, is responsible for the monetary system that is grinding all of us in the direction of economic collapse - although he certainly has lots to answer for (details can be found on any of your March 19th Blogswarm posts).

Yesterday I read an article from the London Telegraph titled: Foreign Investors Veto Fed Rescue. Er.. how can they do that? Well, it turns out they can and I recommend you read the article yourselves if you can find any time but I'll try to explain what I'm coming to understand. The point being made by the business editor was essentially 'what if you hold a sale of 10 year US Treasury notes and nobody comes to buy?' Big problem. The thing hinges on the fact of the US dollar (petro-dollar) being the world's reserve currency and it's dropped a lot in value just recently which means that other countries are going to drop the value of their own currencies in order to keep down with us.

'Overall credit conditions could tighten into a world-wide slump (like 1930). It's the stuff of bad dreams.

As of June 2007, foreigners owned $6,007bn of long-term US debt. (Equal to 66pc of the entire US federal debt). The biggest holdings by country are, in billions: Japan (901), China (870), UK (475), Luxembourg (424), Cayman Islands (422), Belgium (369), Ireland (176), Germany (155), Switzerland (140), Bermuda (133), Netherlands (123), Korea (118), Russia (109), Taiwan (107), Canada (106), Brazil (103).'

Okay, I read that list and then went back and looked at it again because something seemed weird about the first five countries. Japan, China, UK - okay no surprises there but how about numbers 4 and 5? Luxembourg? Aren't there about 57 people who live in Luxembourg? It's so small even I would have a hard time finding it on a map without a magnifying glass. Cayman Islands? Have you ever met anybody from the Cayman Islands? Do they arise each morning with hands over hearts and pledge allegiance to the sovereign Isles of Cayman? Do they go to work? or school? do they play ukuleles? do they eat bananas? Why is it that Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and the UAE aren't even on the list? Could there be a connection?

Now I'm getting suspicious. Those two countries (?) seem to have more money than the next eleven and I've been wondering why. If you add them together it's almost as much as the first two countries on the list and double the UK at number three. This may be a bigger subject than one post will allow but I'll keep on investigating and will be back soon with my next report.

Friday, March 21, 2008

first trip to the City

It was round about 1971, when we were living in a big loft in Montreal, that a couple from NYC came to stay for several weeks. Russell had stolen his girlfriend Barbara from her very wealthy Manhattan parents and the fact she was an only child made this even more significant. Barbara was good company but pretty quiet in our bohemian surroundings. Russell was a different story. He was boisterous, funny as hell and hardly ever slept. My first clue he was a bit different was the fact he'd sit in a chair near the kitchen area all night long smoking cigarettes and drinking whisky with the cannister vacuum cleaner hose in one hand ready to hit the switch at the first glimpse of a cockroach. Since we lived on the fourth floor with bars on the other three there were a few of them around. I wasn't familiar with speed at the time but meeting Russell gave me a lesson in chemical dependency I've never forgotten.

They left Montreal a few weeks later when Barbara's parents agreed to condone the relationship. That would have been the end of the matter for us but for the fact they called several months later and invited me to NY as their Gentile guest for Passover. My son was very young but his father and the other people in the loft urged me to go since I was the only one among them who'd never been to the City. Thus, I found myself on a plane heading south a few days later.

The flight was due to land at LaGuardia, one of the smallest of the NY airports, and getting there involved flying directly between the skyscrapers of NY. It was a brief but remarkable experience and when the plane landed on what appeared to be a large dock right on Flushing Bay I knew I wasn't in Canada anymore. That doesn't mean I wasn't familiar with other world class cities since by then I'd spent several years in Europe and the cities there aren't to be sneezed at ..but they're old and they're beautiful as they are. I know huge buildings are everywhere now but not so much at that time and who on earth could imagine tearing down the Louvre to put up the head office of an insurance company? (Don't answer that.)

Russell met me and took me on a whirlwind tour of the City in one of the Lincolns belonging to his new in-laws. We actually stood on the plaza of the World Trade Center but, try as I might, I simply can't draw that. Suffice it to say those buildings were huge; the North Tower had opened just a few months before and the South Tower was ready but not yet occupied. As I looked up and up and up I suddenly got very dizzy and started to topple backward. I would have fallen if he hadn't caught me and I explained that although I'd done some climbing and had even stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower, I seemed to be experiencing some serious vertigo.

By then it was getting close to dinnertime and we drove to one of the older apartment houses close to Central Park and left the car for one of the doormen to park. I knew the apartment would be nice but I hadn't been expecting a two story penthouse 29 floors up in one of New York's landmark residences. It was obvious Barbara's parents were more than just rich - they were super rich. I don't remember much about them or the dinner other than the fact that they were nice, the surroundings were large and luxurious and the servants quiet and efficient.

After dinner Russell asked if I'd like to go out to the terrace (yes, the terrace..not the balcony) to look at the Empire State Building and the skyline across Central Park. As we stood at the railing he suddenly picked me up and held me at arm's length over empty space and said, "What do you think would happen if I dropped you now?" His eyes were glassy and his grin was typical of a speed freak rictus. I was too terrified to think of anything other than I would never see my son or my parents again. I begged him to not let go. I begged him to bring me back. After a few minutes he did. I don't recall much about the rest of the visit but was never so happy to be home as I was the next day.

That was all a long time ago now but the memory has stayed at a very deep level. It was later, much later, when I really did start thinking about Russells's question and although I've never come up with an answer it's a question we all need to ask ourselves. Maybe we just need to keep in mind we can die at any time. Perhaps we need to live our lives in such a way that we will have no regrets about its ending. This isn't always possible but what is possible is to try.

This morning I remembered a favorite Joni Mitchell song and these words came to mind:
We are stardust,
We are golden.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

my favorite artist

is Edmund Dulac who was a 19th century watercolor illustrator. Once and only once I got to see an exhibition of a number of his paintings most of which had been borrowed from private collections. I didn't want to leave. I had to be dragged out. He was a genius and is the one I compare myself against when I paint. I never expect to get close but it's peaceful being in that space.




In case anyone is wondering there are two new stories with pictures underway and I expect to post one of them in the next day or two. Work has been especially de-engergizing this week. Meanwhile I hope you all are well - take good care.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Grrrr! Tits Ahoy!

Several days ago I made a comment to a post of Dcup's at American Street. Much to my surprise she contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in posting to her blog Politits as a co-blogger. Well, Hell, Yes! It's a scary prospect I must admit. Dcup has a good reputation as a political and social blogger and I hope I'll be up to the challenge.

Of course, I'll continue my regular habit of posting picture stories and illustrated random thoughts. My tendency has been to comment on current political events at the blogs where this stuff is already happening (hello, fairlane) since I think it's important to have more focus than less. If I find I have something to say about an issue then I can just add it to the mix. Likely that's what I'll continue to do for the occasional post at Politits.

In honor of this milestone moment, I would like to thank just a few of the people who have encouraged me during my brief time in the blogosphere. Yes, Scarlet, I love that word too and you are a great writer. fairlane at Jonestown was my first visitor and has been very cool and supportive while I was wondering what the heck was my purpose in being up here even though it was obvious he was very busy. My brother-in-law, Gary at Withinsight graciously introduced my junior blog last fall and I'll always appreciate that as well as our long friendship. Lastly, I have to mention Ben at Flying Totems. He's my son and has one of the coolest little sites that hardly ever gets comments but then again, he's wise to the blogging world and doesn't advertise.

I can't mention everyone who has visited and with whom I've formed welcome relationships but most of you are on my blog roll and I'm delighted at what you're doing. I know from experience now that only the brave blog.

My lunchtime is nearly over and I have to return to work. I plan to post something at Politits soon but meanwhile, please go over and visit the blog. It's great and I'm very proud (humbly so) to have been invited. Thanks again, Dcup!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

childhood summer

















In 1954, not too long after the end of WWII, with England heavily rationed, hospitals laboring to look after the wounded and much of the country still scarred by bomb craters and debris, my parents decided to move to Canada with their asthmatic daughter.. me. We went directly to cottage country by a little lake 25 miles north of Toronto and that's where I grew up.

Lake Wilcox was close enough to the city that it was a very popular spot on summer weekends. Although you could drive to the bigger lakes further north, doing so wasn't practical back then since the only way to get to them was by two lane roads many of which weren't paved. Going that far was possible but it had to be for a week or two just to make the drive practical. So never mind Sauble Beach on Lake Huron with its miles of white sand, Sunday picnics often meant Ash's Beach at Lake Wilcox and it sometimes seemed as if half the population of Toronto drove in. The cars were filled with irritated sweaty grownups and tons of kids just plain looking for a place to stop. Most of the beaches were private and there were no parking lots so once the park itself was was full the only hope of a spot was a slim chance that someone with a pregnant woman would have to drive to the hospital right that minute. Come to think of it there were likely a few babies born in those circling cars. All was chaos on the weekends.

But there was a roadhouse with beer (except on Sunday when people brown bagged the stuff), pool tables, pinball machines and a good size contingent of bikers usually on hand. Across the road was Ash's booth that sold soft drinks, ice cream, burgers, fries and hotdogs. Next to it was the entrance down the stairs to the beach and next to that was the dance hall - jukebox, jitterbug heaven. I didn't get out of the house after dark to check the nighttime action for years but we knew it could be dangerous.



Even though the weekends were crazy and the nights could be it was the days that belonged to us kids and the mothers who occasionally paid attention to what we were getting up to. We spent the summers in and around the water. There were artesian springs that fed the lake and we loved finding where they'd sprung up from one summer to another. You could put your arm or leg into what appeared to be a wet hole in the beachgrass and feel the icy cold as deep as you could reach while the sun baked the rest of you. We'd cover each other with wet clay and then go dashing into the lake to clean off. Since I wasn't allowed to swim until July I often had to find other ways to entertain myself and one of my personal favorite places was a very old and decrepit roller skating rink further along the beach. There were hundreds of pairs of old roller skates lining the walls and the trick was to find a pair the right size with unbroken straps you could fasten to your shoes. I liked to spend hours pretending I was a famous skating queen or a magic flying fairy.



Now our own beach was a lot of fun but the cool place to go during the week was Ash's Beach. Every winter big dump trucks filled with sand would drive out onto the lake and dump their loads on the ice of Ash's so there'd be mostly sand under the water and not weeds.. a very big yuck to all of us. There were also things to play on at Ash's - water slides, diving boards, rafts that floated on big empty barrels and the boats. All of them were great places to play pirate and, since every year Mary Martin appeared live on television to do her Peter Pan role, we were all very big fans of pirates.

Jean Ash, who was also mother to two of the kids, ran the ticket area for the beach. The .25 cent admission was about as much as any of us got as a whole weeks allowance so paying admission wasn't exactly on the agenda. But Jean was very cool, our own local version of Bettie Page who really had seen everything, and she pretended not to notice when we came swimming around the fences that went out into the water. She'd even tell us stories about some of the wackier people who came to swim - like the butch women who demanded to rent men's bathing trunks. None of us knew what to make of that but it was pretty funny.

One of our favorite activities was climbing down the rope that anchored the rafts. The idea was to stay down there holding your breath as long as possible. Strangely enough, me with my asthmatic chest, won those contests more than anyone else.




Then there was the booth. My friend Linda's mother was one of the women charged with watching me since both my parents had jobs in Toronto and Linda's mother worked at the booth doing the food preparation and serving the customers. One weekday afternoon Linda and I heard shrieks of laughter from behind the closed shutters so sneaked inside to have a look at what all the fun was about. A lot of ladies at that time were what you might term statuesque, not necessarily fat but big, buxom women who'd given birth to several children. An old brass balance scale was part of the kitchen equipment inside and when we peeked around the ice cream coolers we couldn't believe what we saw them doing. There were five women with their blouses unbuttoned and their bras lifted up or unfastened and they were having a contest of their own to see who among them had the biggest, heaviest breasts. Linda and I sneaked back out without them knowing we'd been there.

c'est moi?

Okay, Rhoda isn't like me at all but I always harbored a secret admiration for the little bitch. I've been memed this evening by both Scarlet and mathman with the following challenge.. a six word memoir. Here goes:
SMART
NAIVE
HAPPY
SAD
SLIGHTLY
SCHIZOPHRENIC

These were the rules of engagement so if anyone who comes to visit feels like playing or passing it on to others, please feel free. Good night and God Bless.

1. Write your own six word memoir. 2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like. 3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post. 4. Tag five more blogs with links. 5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

interlude


"I dreamed I climbed a tree in my Maidenform bra" and other pretty strange 'foundation garment' ads dominated women's magazines from 1949 to 1969 which was when so many women burned the damn things. I love this description: "Features include "spoke-stitched cups for Cleopatra curves," "reinforced undercups for everlasting uplift," and "all-elastic band for freedom of fit." Now does that sound comfortable? When I was in highschool most of the girls wore heavy duty bras and girdles probably at the insistence of their mothers who were well aware of the chastity belt aspect. Watching them getting dressed after gym class was very amusing especially since several of them actually had to jump up and down to get squeezed back into girdles that were entirely made from rubber. yuck.

Here I am between story posts but what prompted the bra thing was an article I read today about women having their plastic surgeries undone. Courtney Love apparently wants her lips back. Posh Spice has had her breast implants removed and Cher is thinking about having her lower ribs replaced. Ah, America! Gotta love it. It made me think about having my wrinkles replaced but then again.. maybe I'll just keep the ones I have and try a little decorative rearrangement with colored bandaids if I want an upbeat look.

Just so you know, I was working on a new picture story last weekend but it was very dark and it turns out not all true or even mostly true memories lend themselves to odd little posts that will entertain my friends and guests. Some, like that one, just appear pointless and sad. Such is life. There is another underway and all being well, it will be here in a couple of days. Meanwhile, if you haven't already, go read Scarlet's "Hold on to the mamm'ries" story. It's wonderful.