Wednesday, October 05, 2011

iPad is bearer of sad news

Here is where, and how, I learned of Steve Jobs' death.....

His was a life well and fully lived.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Contrasting advice for Wall Street protesters

On Sunday, Nicolas Kristof, the estimable New York Times columnist and Oregon native, offered a list of “practical demands” that he thought the “Occupy Wall Street” organizers should get behind. See his full column HERE.

His three “suggestions” are as much evidence of the problem as they are efforts at a solution. Take a look. (As you will see, my own "suggestions" are radically different):

1. Kristoff wants to impose a financial transactions tax. The “modest tax on financial trades” .... would “dampen speculative trading that creates dangerous volatility.”

2. Close the “carried interest” and “founders’ stock” loopholes, which, in Kristof’s words, “may be the most unconscionable tax breaks in America.”

3. Protect big banks from themselves by “moving ahead with Basel III capital requirements and adopting the Volcker Rule to limit banks’ ability to engage in risky and speculative investments." Kristof calls this “the finance equivalent of a pollution tax.”

Right. So what’s wrong with this surprisingly modest list?

Nothing really, except nothing on it will happen because the money-driven political system won’t allow it.

What’s needed is overarching political change. Note I didn’t say “reform.” Considerable “clean slate” thinking is needed here. Instead of nibbling ineffectively at the tax code, we need to take a hard look at that “holy of holies) the U.S. Constitution to see where it is at odds with democracy, civility, freedom and fairness.

So here is a list of changes (13 demands!) to commend to the Wall Street protesters:

1. Whatever constitutional provisions allow soulless Corporations to have the rights of individual citizens need excising.

2. Whatever constitutionally allows a handful of votes (in small rural states) to block the majority's will (through filibusters etc.), must go.

3. The electoral college is an anachronism. Out with it!

4. We need universal health care, period. No compromises, NONE. (this very likely can’t happen until 2. and 3. are in effect.)

5. The right to education and employment should have equal status with the right to vote — which, by the way, is also under attack — thanks again to the Constitution and the powers it gives the states.

6. In the name of peace, we should require that our foreign aid be equal to or greater than our military spending. The two must NOT be conflated.

7. The Second Amendment should be rewritten so that it clearly serves domestic tranquility, not crime, mayhem, “accidental deaths” and hatred.

8. Media literacy should be a required course in all schools — at every grade level.

9. We should create an economy based on needs, not wants. Note: that means our societal priorities should be public needs (schools, health care, bridges, mass transit, social services) at the expense of private wants (jewelry, expensive cars, second and third homes, private jets, yachts etc.) Basic needs should be spelled out and guaranteed. Housing, health, education, food etc. (We don't need to re-invent the wheel. See the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

10. We must legislate requirements that create a “carbon neutral” economy. We must end global warming.

11. Employees (including — and notably — CEOs) should be paid what they are worth, not what the easily manipulated market will bear or what closed boards of directors decide or compromised "compensation consultants" recommend. And, yes, the question of what employees are 
worth needs to be discussed, determined and negotiated openly and honestly. Questions of equity, living wages and human dignity should be addressed.

12. The judicial and law enforcement systems must be just and equitable. Minimum sentencing is a denial of due process and capital punishment is, in every case, “cruel” and “excessive.” Both should be outlawed.

13. Get big money out of politics once and for all. Limit campaign contributions and/or simply publicly finance elections. Believe me, it will be “cost effective.”

The contrast of my list to Kristof's solutions to our problems is stark and, frankly, worrying. I admire him for writing so boldly about the problems he finds among the poor abroad. Why, then, is he so wobbly and narrowly focused in writing about our problems here at home?

An afterthought: Under the present political system, my list is even less likely to be implemented than Kristof's. The difference, however, is that my list is attuned to working outside the system, which is exactly what the protesters are doing. More power to them — and us!

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Monday, October 03, 2011

The end of my typewriter era

As some of you know, for about four years I became quite obsessed with old typewriters, and in a mad frenzy acquired more than 50 of these wonderful old machines. A couple even dated back to the 19th Century.

In my enthusiasm, I put on displays of typewriters at three local colleges. The displays featured the same models that several famous authors used to write well-known books. After I'd install the displays, I'd stand at a distance and wait for throngs of students to crowd around.

It never happened. The typewriters barely drew a glance although a few teachers remarked on the displays. "I had one of those once," one old prof observed. Another said that he wrote his dissertation on an IBM Selectric like the one I had on display. He was impressed that Hunter Thompson had used the same model to write about Fear and Loathing.

So, after my displays flunked out on campuses, the typewriters stayed in my basement. I'd pull out a couple of the more interesting ones if a visitor showed so much as a glimmer of interest. The glimmer flickered out after the first three or four minutes of my basic typewriter dissertation.

On-line there's a pretty enthusiastic typewriter collecting community. They share advice about jammed keys, frayed ribbons and swap stories and occasionally typewriter.

A few months back the New York Times featured a story about young people getting interested in the machines. It didn't match my experience although I did heft a typewriter to an on-line organized "Meet up" group. Two of us showed up, had coffee and left never to meet again.

Mostly I became a neighborhood repository for unwanted and abandoned typewriters. "Hey, I hear you collect typewriters. I have this old one that belonged to my Mom. Are you interested?" I would follow a series of probing questions about model year, brand, condition etc. Silly me. In return I'd get: "Well, you know, it's just an old typewriter."

I'd take in a few of these orphans but then I started running out of space, so I'd donate the better ones to charity auctions until I pared back my collection to 45 or so. Selling them on-line had two drawbacks. One was the hassle of shipping them. The other was that jewelers were known to buy them to harvest their keys for bracelets. Kind of like poaching elephants for their tusks.

Then one day I noticed at Powell's Technical Bookstore downtown that someone had stashed some old typewriters and adding machines (I had three or four of those too) up on the tops of prominent book shelves. The clerk told me that the owner, Michael Powell, collected typewriters. I happen to have an ex-wife who knows Powell and through her I got a phone number and an introduction.

I figured that it was better that my typewriters be on display at Powell's than stashed away in my basement. On the phone Powell and I talked vaguely about compensation (book credit at the store) but I mostly wanted the reading public to see the assortment of Royals, Underwoods, Remingtons, Olivers, Hermes and Olympias (to name a few brands).

It took a while (Powell is mostly retired now and travels a lot) but finally, last month, a panel truck from Powell's backed into the driveway and the driver and I loaded up 40 typewriters, three adding machines and various typewriter paraphernalia.

I kept three typewriters back, just for old time's sake. They are shown here. The Olivetti Lettera 22 was the machine that got me started collecting in the first place. It as a nostalgia thing. I'd had one in the Peace Corps in Kenya 45 years ago. It was a balky little typer but I loved the way it looked. Very Italian. It is commonly found in teal. My tan one with its red shift key is pretty rare. Or at least I like to think so. Don't get me started....

There was no way I was going to let go of my folding Corona in its leather, velvet-lined traveling case. Besides, Agatha Christie and Ernie Pyle both hammered away on these little machines.

Finally, I kept an Underwood Universal mostly because I had two of them. I figured Powell's could get by on one. I particularly like the ribbon spool covers with their cut-out logos.

I also saved back my collection of ribbon tins. Some of them bear masterpieces of Art Deco graphics.

In the two weeks the typewriters have been gone, I haven't missed them. I figure they are in good hands At some point I'll call Michael Powell just to make sure, to see whether he's been to see them and whether he'd like me to tell him about what he has a treasure trove of typing history he has.

Oh, and I might ask about that credit at the bookstore.

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