Sunday, February 22, 2009

Manitou Springs Carnivale parade!

I posted some photos from yesterday’s Carnivale parade in Manitou on Not My Tribe’s Facebook page. Very colorful! Go see!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pie in the economic sky

Eric and I had fun in Costa Rica playing with a rainbow in the hills outside Santa Elena. We traveled down a narrow bumpy road until the bright double rainbow appeared to end in the backyard of the only house in sight. An inspiring illusion to be sure, but still only an illusion. Rainbows are like that, aren’t they? Manipulable to a point; there, but not, depending on your vantage point; seen by all, fully comprehended by few. As kids we dreamed of finding the promised pot of leprechaun gold, but we never could quite get there. The promise forever remained only a promise.

Chasing rainbows has become our financial pastime of late. Golden parachutes, speculation, valuation, debt forgiveness, creative accounting, off-book transactions, suspense accounts, slush funds, contra accounts, accruals, clean opinions, full disclosure, extraordinary items, going concerns, immateriality — I could go on for hours. We have a financial system that’s impossible to discern, is largely illusory and widely un-understood. Even by its makers.

The fractional reserve system, patently illegal not so long ago, means that our money isn’t a paper representation of what actually is, it is only what they say it is, which is whatever it is, I suppose. I’m told it’s lost 50% of its value in the past decade which means, I guess, that it’s now something other than what it was. And who knows what it will be tomorrow?

It would seem that printing off billions more crisp banknotes to give to soulless corporate people, whose paper assets and liabilities can be altered with the stroke of a pen, means little to anyone except the publicly-traded rich.

Is it any wonder that no one - which includes everyone - can get their arms around this mess? We don’t understand what’s really going on so we keep doing what we do, which is whatever that is, on any given day. Today Obama is coming to Denver to sign his economic stimulus plan into law — 1588 pages of freshly-printed unread paper that will solve our economic crisis and put us back on the road to financial prosperity.

I can’t recall where the momentous event is to take place, but I imagine it’s somewhere over the rainbow.

a celebration of white warmongers

Military customers in Colorado Springs were angered by a picture of Barack Obama on a sign outside the Pete Field Commissary announcing a Presidents' Day store closure. Disgruntled and bewildered shoppers complained that the holiday was to be a celebration of George Washington and Abe Lincoln, not THAT ONE. The Defense Commissary Agency removed Obama's picture but were unable to change the fact Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

heart of stone

I found this rock in Costa Rica, wet with seawater and the color of red jade, on a miles-long stretch of sand. A heart-shaped message, escaped from the somber rainforest, presented to me - I think - by Cupid himself.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Free Hugs Day makes me melancholy

This video makes me teary-eyed every time I see it. We Americans are taught that we're strong and independent, so very grown up, but in reality many of us are isolated not only from each other, but from ourselves and our need for human connection and physical touch. There's no strength in that really.

When I was in Argentina last year, it was clear that they're not physically uptight like we are. Everywhere I went people greeted each other with warm hugs and kisses to the cheeks; even the men were comfortable embracing and kissing each other. I felt like a childish prudish nitwit which made me sad.

Today is Free Hugs Day, so grab someone who seems really standoffish and hold on until you feel her relax and, in my case, start to cry.

Playmobil tyranny toys

The kids and I are big fans of Playmobil toys. We have bins and bins of Playmobil: people, furnishings, clothing and accessories, plants, animals, and a variety of dwellings and vehicles. We have the Victorian doll house set up on the fireplace hearth, where it has been for more than a decade and still draws the attention of at least one child every day. Even the teenagers manage to make imaginative use of the toys in high school class projects. Their odd Playmobil videos are eagerly anticipated by their classmates; the most recent was the nearly unbearable "Great Expectations meets Nanny 911."

Whenever Playmobil comes out with new toys, the kids empty their piggy banks and hurry to Little Richard's Toy Store. Not this time. Our beloved Playmobil has decided to exploit the global war on terror for profit with Playmobil Security Checkpoint and Playmobil Police Checkpoint.

Playmobil may never have deserved my high esteem. I'd noticed over the years there were no people of color in any of the toy sets. The figures were always European-looking whites, excepting the dark-skinned crooks found within the Police Station set. When the company finally, probably at the urging of many, came out with some black figures, they came isolated in a box, never as part of a set, like the company was being made to do something distasteful. "Good GOD, okay, HERE! Now shut up!"

I'm not sure how children will interpret the new Playmobil toys. The police checkpoint -- two small plastic characters and accessories with a total shipping weight of 8 ounces -- costs $99. The intended market is quite obviously rich white kids who are likely unfamiliar with police intimidation. I'd like to imagine my children would hunt through our bins until they found a dark-skinned family who would be stopped at the police checkpoint. Shortly, a sports car full of white guys carrying tiny handcrafted Constitutions would pull up and accuse the cops of racial profiling. Across the imaginary street some long-haired hippie sorts would be carrying toothpick flags calling for social justice.

I read some customer reviews on Amazon and it looks like I'm not the only parent disturbed by Playmobil's new tyranny toys.


This playset is one of the best purchases I have made for my three-year-old. In the past, when we have been stopped at roadblocks, or when during one of Daddy's arrests, he would start crying uncontrollably. Now, after playing with this for the past several months, he is perfectly docile.


I was pretty pumped to get this model. After my Leviathan teddy-bear burst at the seams and my Guantanamo slip and slide tore into several pieces, I was looking for a petty distraction as durable as state tyranny itself.

Finally, I found the Playmobil Police Checkpoint. It's everything a colorful plastic method of indoctrination should be: mobile, plastic, and filled with red warning signs. I love setting it up outside my house. That way I feel like I have to show papers to get in. I know I own it, but it's cooler if the state lets me in. They know best.


This toy lacks the realism for my children to play.
It has no Brown or Black figures to stop at the Check Point
My son is unable to "randomly search" no one (he knows white kids don't carry dope).
It lacks both (simulated of course) crack cocaine and/or heroin that my Little Police figures can "find" on the little Brown or Black figurines
In addition, it lacks a Breathalyzer my son can use to set up "Random" road blocks at 3 a.m. down the street from the local Pub.

I'll wait on the expansion pack that includes Leroy the Guilty until proved Innocent Lamont and Rodriquez--I'm here legally but left my Green card at home--Lopez.

My favorite:

Finally a toy that gets our kids used to living in a police state. Benjamin Franklin said that those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. But then again, he lived in France for awhile, so what did he know about anything.

Before this toy came out I was afraid my son would not know how to cope with the new reality of American life; how to prepare him to the future, I was wondering. Boy am I relieved; so many lessons learned! Now he knows that:

1) Some people can make a decent living treating others like cattle, and the best part: the cattle is paying their salaries.
2) You only have the rights that the government gives you; you can move around the country only if you comply with government regulations, no matter how frivolous they might be. No liquid you say? except if in a ziplock bag? Check. Lighter ok because the cigarette lobby fought the no-lighter rule? Swell. All passengers searched but cargo mostly un-scrutinized? No problem.
3) You should always bow to people in uniforms, even though they might be in this job because they could not qualify for police work (because of the rap sheet or the drug abuse).

Unfortunately, this toy comes short in a few areas:
1) It does not show that if you're rich, you don't have to wait in line for hours. If you can travel first class, you get your own fast-track screening. Too bad the terr'ists have plenty of Saudi and Pakistani cash and can easily travel first class should they want to. They should have included another screening set in the box.
2) It does not come with the 300 tired-looking playmobils you would need to show the passengers waiting in line behind the screening area.

However, it does some things very well: for instance, the screening apparatus is not actually functional. This represents faithfully the actual TSA system, which, every time it is tested or audited, fails to catch anything (weapons, even bombs).

So, thank you Playmobil. I hope they will expand their product offering and give us more toys that can help our children prepare for the new reality of a much safer America; specifically, I am eagerly waiting for the Staline-style Guantanamo American gulag set, the North-Korean-style CIA water-boarding set, the KGB-style NSA phone-tapping set. Some people will whine about the loss of their civil liberties, but my son knows that the North-Korean are some of the safest people in the world. They had virtually no fear of terrorists.

Alas, Little Richard's isn't carrying either Playmobil set. I checked.

Pura vida!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

the short end of the stick

It was one of the greatest heists in history. The scene? London, 1660. The perpetrator? England’s King Charles the II. The loot? All the gold he could con out of the country’s goldsmiths, bankers and businessmen. The tool?

A tally stick.

Tally sticks were a brilliant invention. But they were also insidious, as they formed the foundation for the fiat currency systems we still have today. One where the root of a currency’s value is in a promise from a faceless institution, and not in the actual value of an object.

Put into use about a thousand years ago, they were a common sense solution for a young gold-and-goods economy where gold was scarce. By the time of the heist they were used in everyday transactions.

Here is how it worked. When a loan was made, the debt was carved in a standard fashion on the surface of a small (preferably hazelwood) stick, and then the stick was split in half through the center of the carving. The longer end of the IOU was given to the purchaser, and its handle was called the “stock” — the root of the word’s use in today’s markets.

Even a mostly illiterate public could read the amount scratched into the wood, and the stick would only fit perfectly with its original other half. That way, when the debtor returned with the money (or goods) owed, the sticks would be matched and the debt would be “tallied.”

In that fundamental use, they worked perfectly. But of course, as is governments’ way, the King was tempted to stretch those bounds.

Charles II ruled at a time when royal power was still based on a divine mandate. His government and institutions — and indeed he himself — saw the king as the Chosen One, which was a real shame for him because it bound him to the laws of Christendom. And Christianity at the time still forbade lending or borrowing with usury (interest). When financing several failing wars against neighboring countries depleted royal coffers, Charles II needed some quick cash to continue living in kingly fashion.

King Charles II turned to the trusted tally and the keen idea of selling his (government) tallies (debt) at a discount. That way he could allow his lenders to profit without charging interest — the basis for government debt being sold at a discount today.

And the King could issue advance tallies for emergency spending, an idea that proved all too tempting. He sold the tallies collected by his Exchequer (tax collector), essentially trading future tax receipts to the country’s goldsmiths (bankers) for quick cash.

The tallies were receipts for taxes to be paid later in the year. This is a crucial part of the story: they weren’t trading on the value of the objects being traded, but on the cost of waiting for a return and the government’s ability to collect taxes and stay honest. If the government is not honest, this is an outright Ponzi scheme, one where new debt issue could theoretically pay for passing bills. For a while.

The King realized that he’d stumbled onto something big. He could wage all the war he wanted and pay his bills with the gold he got for hazelwood. The King spent and spent, and the goldsmiths’ vaults filled up with more and more sticks.

Goldsmiths were handing out certificates for fractional gold reserves and inflating the young economy in a con all their own. And since the King played along with their early building of a banking system, they played along with the sticks-for-gold investment strategy.

Over time, the market got wise to the game. Buyers started attaching larger and larger discounts to the King’s debt to offset the perceived risk in loaning money to the King. The discounts prompted the King to issue even more tallies, promising out more future tax revenues just to meet his short-term spending desires. But remember only the discount was changing here. So the mountain of taxes to be redeemed in order to pay off his debts grew in comparison, soon overwhelming the King’s income.

By the time the whole Ponzi scheme came to an end, the King’s sticks were trading at a 10% discount (to put that into perspective, short-term T-Bills are currently trading with discounts of one-tenth of one percent or less). The payments on his newer issues trading at that discount soon outmatched all the Kingdom’s tax revenues, effectively bankrupting his Exchequer and threatening to put the monarchy in the poorhouse.

So with the stroke of a pen, the King simply declared those debts illegal and ceased payment.

With that single stroke he stole most of England’s gold — having already spent it — and forced the young economy to fall flat on its face. The King’s various creditors ended up on “the short end of the stick” and all credit in the country evaporated very nearly overnight.

Pretty scary, huh? I’m glad such a thing could never happen today.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Into the light

Saturday, February 7, 2009

No rest for the weary

Starting at around 1 a.m. last night, loud Hazmat firetrucks with lights a-flashin’ went up and down my quiet street — not a through street to anywhere — for several hours. At times they were followed by fully-outfitted firefighters on foot. I sat on a chair in the front hallway to avoid being startled awake by the urgent knocking I expected, a dire portent of an immediate evacuation, something I felt I wouldn’t weather bravely in my monkey pajamas.

No knocking came, no firefighters to help me with my coat, no CSFD minivans to whisk me off to Denny’s or wherever evacuated people go. Just a cold night in a drafty foyer, a sore neck this morning, and lots of unanswered questions.

dress for secess!

Nine state legislatures this week introduced bills intended to reclaim state sovereignty as protected by the ninth and tenth amendments to the Constitution. In case you’ve forgotten, these are the amendments proclaiming all power to the people excepting those powers specifically granted to the Federal Government which, you’ll recall, are quite limited both in number and scope.

The bills call for individual members of the military to return home and defend their respective states against a tyrannical Federal Government. This from Arizona’s bill: “…if the President or any other federal entity attempts to institute martial law or its equivalent without an official declaration in one or more of the states without the consent of that state … individual members of the military return to their respective states and report to the Governor until a new President is elected…” [emphasis added]

I am comforted by this! Arizona is only a day trip away. And if Colorado passes similar legislation then the loathesome fortress Fort Carson, which sullies the view from my back deck, will be instantly transformed into an oasis of protection and hope. And, like all the neighbors, my car may soon sport a bumper sticker: SUPPORT OUR TROOPS!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Yunnan dumplings!