Thursday, October 25, 2007

Four years in the same costumes...

We're bored. We want to be geishas.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The g-factor

My "courtship" with Dave went something like this. "Hi." "Hi." "What did you get on the SAT?" "XXX on math. XXX on verbal. You?" "800 on both." "Combined?" "Ha."

That conversation, which occurred at Bennigan's on North Academy in 1984, as I sat at a table holding hands with my cute-but-inferior tennis pro boyfriend, sealed our fate. Dave and I were less than crazy about each other. Our DNA, on the other hand, fell fast and hard. Over the moon in fact. Our double-stranded helices playfully batted amino acids at each other, wanting to intertwine forever in a heart-shaped petri dish. Messenger RNA played Yenta. We were both far more concerned about the g-factor, inherent ability to learn, IQ for you old schoolers, than the g-spot, which I still don't understand well or care much about. Really.

Our top colleges had traditionally drawn from the spawn of the affluent. Students from northeastern prep schools such as Exeter and Andover were the incoming freshman class. Higher education was not for the many, but for the privileged few. Thank goodness that a rebel Rockefeller or Carnegie daughter defied her parents and married a cowboy from Wyoming. The rich began to question the system. "How can I get my dung-covered grandson into Princeton? I know he is far more brilliant than some of these Vermont yahoos. I know! Let's create a test that shows off the Mayflower genome. Diamonds in the American rough." Thus the SAT was born.

For many years the SAT served a noble purpose. Intelligent hardworking children from mediocre schools, from up-and-coming western states, from blue collar families, could distinguish themselves as better than their circumstances would normally allow. Stanford, the "Harvard of the West," helped America meet her Manifest Destiny.

But the rich are not comfortable with a level playing field. Perhaps they fear that too many trophy wives have diluted their genetic purity. I don't know. But, predictably, they began to climb back up Mount Superior. What was designed to be a test taken after a good night's sleep, by anyone, became a game to be won. Expensive review courses and other manipulations once again favored the privileged few. Not about to give up flagship universities to the underclass, they changed the rules of engagement.

Educators say that the SAT tells us nothing much. Yes, a certain segment of society has an inherent superior ability to learn, to achieve what they've been asked to achieve. No surprise there. But it is a limited quest. A limited vision. And a poor indicator of future success. Superiority for its own sake is a dead end. Our kids can walk around now with pride but not purpose. They can achieve but not accomplish. The SAT has become the measure of a person. Works aside. That's sad. I feel for my children, being raised in this environment. They want to do well, and achievement is what it takes. I rue the pressure they feel, but I am unable to remove them from the competition.

Abolish the SAT. Abolish the ACT. Abolish the CSAP. Let the measure of a person be what they DO. If they work hard to attain good grades, let us honor that. I made a mistake when I thought that good genes were the loftiest goal. Not so.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks,
The zoo of the new

Whose names you meditate ---
April snowdrop, Indian pipe,

Stalk without wrinkle,
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical

Not this troublous
Wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.
Sylvia Plath

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Anticipating future nostalgia

My little Devon, age 9, took this picture of us yesterday at Elitch Gardens. She looked like a tiny ant on the ground, positioning herself to capture the shot she wanted.
I love having a nascent historian in the family. Years from now we'll look at her photos and relive the moments that passed so quickly as to escape our notice. Like this one.

Columbia Savings Revisited

Several memorable things in my life were tied to Columbia Savings. The first was the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. I was a recent college graduate working for a large international accounting firm, KPMG Peat Marwick. I remember sitting in a conference room, clad in a conservative business suit, already on hour 5 of an 18-hour workday. These were the days before the Internet; we still relied on the Big 3 to provide us with news. One of the higher ups came into the room, solemn look on his face, and turned on the television. The ten of us sat there and watched hope gone lives gone due to an improperly sealed O-ring.

A few years later, the "Feds" came in and took the CEO, the CFO, and several others out of the building in handcuffs. It was a scary sight. These were our friends...our role models. What the hell? What was going on?

The S&L crisis changed the American way of life. Without an extensive legal or financial background, you may not understand how. But, trust me, rules were changed. I worked for the next several years with the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC), the branch of the government created to ensure that we would all enjoy a safe financial future. They were a bunch of dumbshits who had absolutely no chance of being hired by Peat Marwick, or any other reputable company. Like so many, the government is a safe haven for idiots who crave authority.

Moving on. Despite the noble efforts of the RTC, the country is facing another financial crisis. As interest rates have gone down over the past several years, a new brand of leech has been unleashed on the unsuspecting public. The mortgage broker. We are in a housing crisis due to the prevalence of SUBPRIME loans. Let me explain. In the past, a family had to meet certain requirements in order to obtain a mortgage. They had to earn enough income, own assets, show that they would be able to meet ongoing financial obligations. Banks and S&Ls had strict underwriting requirements. They extended credit and collected interest in return. Borrowers had to be a PRIME candidates to qualify for a mortgage loan.

Today, the mortgage industry has gone wild. There are zillions of mortgage brokers who can find ANYONE a loan. They shop around for a third tier underwriter who is willing to lend the money. The broker receives a large commission. The underwriter receives an origination fee and various other payments. Neither care if you are in over your head. They will offer you an initial rate of 2 or 3% with adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), and convince you that rates won't go up much. You can afford it. Buy that bigger house. Once the deal is inked, the lender simply takes the cruddy mortgage portfolio and sells it to the next prick in line, greedy for the soon-to-be usurious interest payments.

For the past two years, mortgage rates have increased. Over a trillion dollars of ARM loans are due to reset in the next 18 months. Homeowners' adjustable payments have gone from $400/month to $600 to $1500. With no end in sight. Foreclosures are at an all time high. Too bad for the idiots, you say? Well, I would normally agree with you. But let's hope that you don't have a house to sell. As the banks divest themselves of the properties they've foreclosed on, real estate prices will be driven into the ground. The lenders will have to write off trillions of dollars of bad loans, likely rendering many of them insolvent. Huge investment funds tied to subprime loans will become worthless. Many Americans will lose their homes, their market investments, and their ability to obtain future credit. I'm predicting another bail out that will cost the taxpayers billions.

Meanwhile, my best friend saw the potential in the industry, despite the fact that she knew nothing about mortgage banking, and earned $18,000. Last month.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Stealing daddy's spotlight...and mommy's pills

This morning, catching up on the goings-on after a week in blazing hot and muggy Mexico, I read on that Al Gore III was arrested recently on charges of possessing -- in addition to marijuana -- Vicodin, Xanax, Valium and Adderall. Oh my! The article pointed out that prescription drug use is becoming more prevalent among the young than even good ol' pot.

Prescription drug abuse is particularly common among upper middle class students, according to Lisa Jack, a clinical psychologist at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. "It just goes to show that where you're from doesn't matter," Jack said. (I hope she isn't speaking geographically).

The article goes on to admonish parents to lock our medicine chests so that vulnerable offspring will be adequately protected from evil.

Okay, done. But it seems to me that the head doctors should be asking, "Why are upper middle class bathrooms filled with an array of pretty-colored mood-altering pills in the first place?"

Welcome to the world of the upper middle class housewife. We take our children's ADHD medication Adderall (basically speed) to get through the morning rush and the long list of daily chores. Valium (a tranquilizer) around 3 p.m. to take off the remaining Adderall edge and get through the afternoon kid activities with a smile. Xanax before stressed-out husband walks through the door assessing performance and demanding moral support and a lovely dinner.

After the kids are safely tucked in, Vicodin (an opioid) gives the same buzz as the 2 or 3 glasses of wine that we used to be able to handle easily, but which now lead to belly fat which, face it, is not only unsightly but downright unhealthy.

What the young ones apparently haven't discovered yet is that Ambien at bedtime puts one into a nice dreamless coma that lasts until the alarm bell goes off and the cycle begins again.

I bet that you wish you could be-e-e half as lucky as me-e-e.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Liberty hung out to dry

Freedom to express oneself, to think independently, was the lure that led the masses to our shores. Safety from abusive and intrusive government is the dream that continues to draw people to our borders. Our military men and women are in Iraq and elsewhere fighting for these same principles on behalf of those who cannot battle tyranny alone. Yet here in Colorado Springs, where so many are at great personal risk because of American ideology, we do not recognize the basic Constitutional freedoms of our own citizens.

It was a private parade, you say. The police were just following the orders of John O'Donnell, the parade organizer. Those people had no right to be there. What a load of garbage. The city was a partner in the St. Patrick's Day parade. They blocked off public streets and used public resources too numerous to mention. For the city and the CSPD to hide behind another organization's insurance policy is not only cowardly, it is un-Constitutional. The ACLU won a recent case in Hawaii, wherein a "private" parade sought to exclude a particular group from marching. The conclusion: government entities can not shield themselves, nor take directives, from private citizens using public resources. The rest of the country seems to understand this.

In any case, the excessive force used by several of the policemen called to the scene, is absolutely indefensible. Miscommunication, fear for the public safety, parade crashing. None excuse what ensued. Not for a minute. Today it was peace activists; tomorrow it will be someone else. Unchecked abuse of power is a terrifying thing to witness. The lack of accountability by the CSPD illustrates that this thug behavior is tolerated, perhaps encouraged. If they are willing to behave that way in the presence of hundreds of spectators, can you imagine the treatment of those less visible? Are they taught that they are to leave their humanity at the door when they don their uniforms and guns?

While I appreciate the attempts made by John Weiss to reconcile the community, his call to the activists to drop the threat of a civil suit is wrong. Where the people have no voice the court system is the next step. A hung jury in so simple a case shows that we are a town that is not as freedom-loving as our local daily newspaper professes. Perhaps, as in Hawaii, a higher court will possess greater wisdom. It is the next peaceful step in our cherished democratic process. The checks and balances built into the Constitution provide a measure of hope.

If there is no relief to be found by those who have sworn to defend freedom, then we will have to take to the streets. Systemic change is always resisted by those in power. If the populace had not banded together in the past to demand its rights, women would not vote, blacks and whites would be segregated, workers would toil in dangerous conditions, children would be chattel.

We should not live in fear of our local government, they should fear and respect us. They are public servants. We are a country of the people, by the people, for the people. We will not rest until our government, including those on Capitol Hill, abides by the Bill of Rights. Don't mistake quiet acquiescence for peace. It is a reaction to oppression.

What the peace marchers need is not a call to lay down, but the rising up of their fellow citizens. They call for peace. Let the rest of us support them with a call for justice. As Thoreau said in Civil Disobedience, "Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence." It is time for every concerned citizen to help stop the rampant abuse of power in our city and beyond. Without liberty and justice, there will never be peace. Here, there or anywhere.