Vacation Time: The View From The Deck

The infamous Pisciotta deck

We’re down in the Bahamas, at the Pisciottas’ sumptuous home in the Shoreline development outside Freeport.  It is a fantastic, relaxing place where we always enjoy ourselves. So far, we’ve managed to eat some good Caribbean food, drink beer at several oceanside bars, and crash a party thrown by some of the many Brit residents in the development.

The view from the foot of stairs at the bottom of the deck

We particularly enjoy the sprawling deck, which looks out over the Atlantic and is well-suited for a breakfast talk, a mid-afternoon siesta, or drinks before the evening festivities.  It has a great view of the ocean, and when you sit out there, sipping a beer and listening to the gentle sound of the ocean, you can’t help but relax.

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Bailout Fatigue

The government will be distributing another $3.8 billion to GMAC, the former GM subsidiary that makes car loans and home loans, but mostly, bad loans.  Although the U.S. government already has given GMAC $12.5 billion in an attempt to shore up its balance sheet, the company is still experiencing massive losses.  This latest cash infusion from the government will leave U.S. taxpayers as the majority owner of the company.  It doesn’t seem like the wisest investment of our tax dollars, but no doubt the Treasury feels that having thrown $12 billion into GMAC, another $3.8 billion is chicken feed.

I’ve posted about our bailout activities on numerous occasions — such as here and here — but what I find most interesting about this latest bailout is the seeming lack of any real reaction to it.  It is as if we have heard about so many bailouts that we have become numb to another failed company, another expenditure of a billion here and a billion there, and other capitalist enterprise largely “owned” by the government, which purportedly will some day be repaid for its “investment.”  The outrage at the ineptitude of the corporate kingpins who ran the companies into the ground with risky and ill-fated business activities, and the outrage at the bad deals the government is striking in agreeing to make the bailouts, seems to have vanished.  We all apparently are suffering from bailout fatigue.

In the meantime, let’s all hope that GMAC’s continuing problems aren’t an early warning sign of the dreaded double-dip recession.

The U-Trou Bomber (Cont.)

Time has published a pretty good wrap-up of the various failings of security that allowed the U-Trou Bomber, Umar Abdulmutallab, to board the flight from Amersterdam to Detroit with enough high explosive to bring down a loaded airplane sewn into his underwear — notwithstanding the warnings from his father and the other circumstances that should have tipped off our security agencies.  The Time article makes clear that, at minimum, we need to improve our cumbersome system for identifying potential terrorists and sharing information about them.

The U-Trou Bomber (Cont.)

The U-Trou Bomber

The Passing Lane

Commuting presents a daily set of challenges and frustrations.  There are the timid souls who don’t understand that the proper way to merge onto a highway is to accelerate into the traffic flow, rather than creeping up to the merge point, hoping that the traffic on the highway will make way and then braking suddenly when that doesn’t happen.  There are the oblivious types who are talking on their phones or, God forbid, texting, and therefore not paying the slightest attention to what they are doing.  There are the self-absorbed characters who click on their turn signals and then immediately begin to drift into the next lane, as if the simple act of initiating the turn signal gave them a magic pass that automatically cleared the way for their cars.

For my money, the worst offenders are the people who seemingly do not grasp the purpose of the passing lane.  When I took my driver’s education class and ventured out, for the first time, onto a four-lane highway, the instructor made it clear that the left lane was the passing lane.  You moved into the left lane if you wanted to pass the car or truck in front of you, and when you had completed the pass you moved back into the right lane.  This allowed traffic to flow properly.

This salutary concept evidently is lost on some people.  In their view, the left lane is simply a lane like any other, to be occupied by traffic.  If they are going to be turning left in two miles or so, they may as well get over into the left lane now, stake their claim to that spot in traffic, and continue to drive their normal speed — which typically is about 5 miles below the speed limit.  Why not?  It’s more convenient for them.  In the meantime, the traffic piles up behind them and then frazzled commuters begin to consider whether they can shoot around the car on the right — and when they attempt that maneuver the offender, shaken from his reverie, usually speeds up for some reason.  Eventually people start driving recklessly, brake lights flash, and accidents happen.  I’ve often thought that more accidents are caused by overly slow drivers that overly fast drivers.  Others agree; this website has a helpful collection of quotes that make that point.

So I say:  Slow drivers, give us a break!  Let the passing lane be the passing lane!

Haircuts

These days I get my hair cut at a unisex salon about a block from my office.  It is quite a change from the barber shops of my youth, which usually had two or three red barber chairs on a black and white tile floor, a crew-cut barber with a white coat with scissors and combs in the breast pocket, and a waiting area of chairs that, if you were a lucky kid, might include an otherwise-illicit Playboy or two.  A haircut took about 10 minutes and involved using the clippers to mow your hair down to half-inch length.  At the end your neck would be dusted with witchhazel, the barber would slap the now-empty chair with a towel and send cut hairs flying, and say:  “Next!”

No more.  When I show up for my appointment at the salon, a nattily dressed host asks if I want a latte or a hot chocolate.  My hair is as likely to be cut by a woman as a man.  Usually the stylist wants to wash my hair before getting started, and often there is a scalp massage thrown in.  The whole process takes about a half hour.  When the haircut is done, they typically ask if I want any “product” put in my hair.  The only “product” featured at the old barber shops was Brylcreem (“A little dab’ll do ya!”) and an appalling product called “Crew Wax” that was the consistency of axle grease and featured a hard plastic brush on top that was used to painfully rake your scalp and leave your hair in prime, “flat top” condition.

Getting a haircut in a place that also has women patrons is interesting.  In some ways, I feel like I have gotten a peek at the mystical rites of a secret society.  For example, the woman in the next chair may be having some aluminum sheets put in her hair, for some mysterious purpose.  What the heck is that all about?  Or the woman and the hair stylist might be having a lengthy, detailed discussion about whether a different hair coloring or “frosting” agent should be used this time.  (I’ve never heard a male customer at a barber shop say anything about their haircut except:  “Give me the usual.”)  The last time I was at the salon the stylist working on the woman in the next chair wheeled over some large, scary-looking device.  I asked the stylist cutting my hair what it was, and she explained it was contained hot liquid wax that was going to be applied as part of an eyebrow waxing.  Ouch!

Sometimes I miss the old, no-frills barber shop, with its talk of sports and testosterone-drenched sense of male camaraderie.   But, I think I get a better haircut at the salon, and I often come away with a different perspective and newfound respect for hardiness of the opposite sex.

The U-Trou Bomber (Cont.)

The continuing story about the failed effort by the U-Trou Bomber, Umar Abdulmutallab, to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit will be interesting to follow in the next few days.  It is pretty clear that it was mostly due to luck and faulty detonation that we avoided another deadly terrorist attack that would have killed hundreds,  It also is clear that the unsuccessful attack exposed some serious flaws in our air travel security and some ambiguous standards that, in this case, seemed to operate in a way that made us less secure.  Finally, we also have been warned that there are many other suicide bombers ready to try to succeed where the U-Trou Bomber failed.  We should take that warning to heart and act promptly to shore up our security apparatus.

President Obama has ordered a thorough review of our air travel security, which I think is the right first step.  (It certainly is a more reassuring approach than Department of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano’s absurd initial statements that the “system worked,” despite the obvious failings that allow Abdulmutallab to go forward with his plot.)  Although it would have been better if our systems had foiled this attempt in the first instance, it is crucial that we not allow recriminations about the current deficiencies in our systems to prevent us from fixing the problems.  From what I’ve read, I think we need to make sure that the State Department and its embassies, which received the warning about the potential danger from Abdulmutallab’s father, share such information with the Department of Homeland Security.  We also need to communicate more effectively with our allies; in this case, Great Britain apparently had Abdulmutallab on some kind of watch list, yet he nevertheless was able to board a plane to the United States.  I also think that, as a rule of thumb, if someone’s father makes the effort to warn us that his son or daughter may be a dangerous potential terrorist, we should accept that as “reasonable grounds” to put the individual on a no-fly list and revoke any visas they may have.  Let’s also not be afraid to give a meaningful pat-down search to someone who buys their ticket with cash and doesn’t seem to be carrying luggage consistent with their announced travel plans.

It appears that this particular incident was made possible only because multiple “red flags” were disregarded.  It’s time to start paying attention to those red flags, and acting on them.

PenPal’s Return

Yesterday Kish picked up Penny from the breeder’s home, where Penny — or PenPal, as we call her — had her second litter of puppies.  She had four healthy pups this time, and she looks like a female dog who recently was nurturing her offspring.  Still, she is a bit thinner than when she left, she looks fit, and she seems very happy to be home.

Having Penny home means our family is together again in close proximity and able to spend some time together, at least until Russell heads back to Vassar.  Although Penny has been gone for about six weeks, it didn’t take long for us to fall into our old routines.  Last night Penny and I did our first post-return circuit around the Yantis Loop, as twilight came and snowflakes fell.