Monday, October 27, 2008


I used to work for the Securities and Exchange Commission as an enforcement attorney in the Seattle Regional Office. It was the smallest of the regional offices, and eventually was closed in 1994, a victim of the Gore project to reinvent the federal government. That story is for another day.

However, because the office was a small one, we knew everyone in it, the folks who audited the broker dealers and the corporations, as well as the enforcement side. As a result, I heard this story from the broker dealer end of the office. It seems that there was a small startup company in the region that wanted to do a public offering to raise money to fund a construction company that would build a new design of cow barn, one that combined energy efficiency with storing the cows in a new and different way. The company called them 'cowdominiums.'

These cowdominiums were circular in shape with a floor that sloped to the inside, where in the center of the room was a hole that had a pipe in it that led to a processing facility for the cow waste. The cows were positioned facing towards the outside of the cowdominium. You see, cows are notoriously inefficient processors of their feed. So the hypothesis was that you could hose the cow waste down the chute, take it out and dry it and reprocess it and then just feed it back to the cows, and they wouldn't notice the difference. Obviously this was pre-prion mad cow disease.

The attorney for the company was named Bruce Butcher (wonderful name, don't you think, for what he was doing?) and he was a true believer. In fact, he was such a true believer that he carried some of this reprocessed cow dung around in a baggie and during investor presentations, he would proceed show how safe it was by eating it!

As I recall, the offering never really got off the ground, so to speak. But in these current perilous financial times, it is always good, albeit rare, to find humor in speculation.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stax or Motown?

I went to highschool from 1966 to 1970. I was lucky that I lived so close to Detroit and CKLW, across the water in Ontario, which blasted out the hits of the day in a very wide radius. But at night, because of the AM radio frequencies, we had to pick up other stations, like WLS in Chicago or WBZ in Boston. They were exotic, but not as good as CKLW because CKLW broadcast a steady string of hits from Motown and Stax records in Memphis. And there was no better music to dance to. I had a full length mirror in my bedroom and in addition to using it to roll my hair at night before I went to bed (yes I slept on all those rollers throughout the night--it's amazing what you can do for beauty's sake), I used it to practice my dancing. And man did I practice, because every Saturday and Friday night there was a dance at the Skylark club, and sometimes, you could go to two dances in a night if there was a dance at the high school after the football game.

My parents let me pick one night a week to go out, so it was hard to select. If I went Friday, I would have nothing to do Saturday but if I went Saturday, I had to get up for church on Sunday with the family. It usually was Saturday, however, because that's the night most of my peers were there. Once in a blue moon there would be a group playing, but mostly we danced to records. And when they were Motown or Stax hits we poured out onto the dance floor.

Well, at least half of us did. The guys.....? Let's just say the only dances they were interested in were the slow dances where they could grab onto you for dear life and shuffle lugubriously around the dance floor under the turning mirrored ball. No talent was required then. But most of my friends wanted to dance fast dances and none of the guys were brave enough to do it. So we girls improvised. What we did is form giant circles where we could dance to our heart's content. You didn't have a partner whose steps you needed to match, so you could try just about anything. There were even dances like the pony, the mashed potato, or the monkey that had actual moves to them (the twist was passe by then). But the one I could never do was the skate. You take a couple shift steps to the side, then you raise your following foot and bring it around in a circle behind your other leg. It's hard to explain, and it was even harder for me to do at the time, but man was I jealous of the girls that could do the skate. They made it look so easy.

Around the end of sophomore, start of junior year, the circle started changing. Boys got braver. Or maybe they started drinking and coming to the dances and their inhibitions were relaxed. But whatever it was, when we girls formed our circles for the fast dances, some boys would break through the circle to the middle, wave their arms like they were flying birds and careen about for a few seconds before dashing out of the circle again. They'd get their bravery up to do it every other song or so, and thinking back, it must have looked a bit like an avian mating ritual. But it got them off the hook for looking good while dancing and it gave the fast dances a bit of a frisson of anticipation. Slow songs just did not cut it for 'getting your jams out.' In the end I think Stax beat out Motown because it had a darker edge to it that was more appealing to me.

And if you watch the Sam and Dave "Soul Man" video that is appended to the title of this piece, you can see that the dancer on the left does a modified skate step from time to time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bassets for Obama

Before I had kids, I had a dog, a cocker spaniel named Sally Puddles Muttons. And I used to take her on walks around Greenlake in Seattle. In the fall of 1984 I had a tshirt printed up that said "Dog Being Walked Against Reagan" and I would wear it on our walks around the lake.

I think in light of the new trend in making a dog outing a political statement, I should find that tshirt and cross out Reagan, insert Bush, cross it out and insert McCain.

I hope you enjoy the video as much as I did.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Homecoming Week

I went to high school during the last of the traditional times--1966-70 in small town Ohio, where the revolution of the 60's was late in coming, but far overstayed its welcome thereafter. Homecoming was a time for a new outfit, generally a suit, to wear to the Homecoming game and Dance and a corsage in school colors that was one giant mum. You elected a Homecoming Queen and her court: one lucky girl from each of the other classes and spent the time being envious of their selection.

Things got kinda crazy when I moved from a small town high school to a liberal arts college in a large urban area. While my college was known for its academics, it was not known for its sports teams, particularly its football team. In fact in the years immediately following my graduation, my alma mater set an NCAA record for most consecutive losses, that was, mercifully, broken by some other hapless institution of higher learning a while back.

I was recently visiting my alma mater as my oldest son is a senior there. I did not attend the football game because it conflicted with the sports event my son was participating in, but I did learn that one of the football cheers that became popular during my time in college was now a cheer that the football team led off each of its games with: "BLOOD!! BLOOD!! BLOOD MAKES THE GRASS GROW!!!"

This sent me into reminiscing about football and homecoming in college. Because the football team was in such sad shape, the Student Board in charge of these things did not organize a Homecoming Dance and almost no attention was paid to inviting alumni to return to campus for the event. This was immediately following the Kent State massacre and emotions were very high on campus against the Vietnam War, with the thought that the traditions of our forebears were somehow quaint and out of place in the college world of today. We had more important things to do, or so we thought.

My first year at college, there was a homecoming queen, who was elected, iirc by less than 50 votes. She was married. None of my friends went to the games. In my sophomore year, my then-boyfriend, who was a senior, was beguiled into joining the team by Coach Hudson, a great bantam weight coach whose team roster was only 30 guys. The 'dirty thirty' he called them. My boyfriend had never played football before but he was a quick runner and got placed on the special team squad. It was not very pretty. That year the Student Board decided that they would forgo Homecoming entirely, and substitute in its place "Gross Out Week," with the winner of the Gross Out contest being awarded the title of Homecoming Queen. I have no idea how many actual entrants there were in the contest. I am only aware of the winner and the runner up--both male.

Now before I describe the entries/actions of these two individuals, I would like to say that at least they did not stomp baby chickens to death, as someone from Yale had been rumored to do in a similar contest. No these fellows merely used their own bodies, but of course they did it in front of others. I am sure that the Alumni Development part of my alma mater, were they even aware of this, would do what they could to bury it deep, deep where no one could find the records. But I think that is wrong. We ignore our history and as a result are unable to make a frank honest appraisal of who we are and what we stand for. And it makes a damn good story.

The first entrant that I am a aware of is a fellow I will call Stewie. Stewie was known around campus as 'the incredible horny man' because he had a habit, freshman week of wearing a trench coat around campus and not much else. He reportedly did this to impress the girls (remember this was before women's lib had made a dent yet in some colleges and many of us, even girls, just sorta took it in weary stride). Stewie and a confederate appeared in the student dining commons on afternoon as lunch was in full swing and Stewie started belting out "Duke of Earl". Stewie had his trench and shirt and pants on at the time, but tucked within his pants was a dildo that popped out. The confederate knelt down with a can of whipped cream, and simulated a sex act in front of not just the students but a prospective freshman and her mother. It is rumored that the freshman actually did enroll in the college the next year. Stewie was so certain that he was going to win that he promised that if he lost he would suck on a dog. (at the time, I didn't think much of this, as I was in a jaded, so what period--but these days 37 years removed from it, and as a parent and supposedly solid member of society, it does rather make me cringe to recall it).

Well Stewie lost. He lost to another fellow who also performed his act at the student dining commons during a lunch. This fellow was something of a legend on campus. Cross him, and you might walk out of your dorm room to find a hunting arrow embedded in your door courtesy of this individual, who we will call Fred. Fred later went on to medical school and became wealthy as a result of inventing an IUD, it was reported. At any rate, Fred ate a hearty meal with his buddies. At the conclusion of the meal, he removed the china, silverware and glasses from his tray, stuck his finger down his throat, brought up his meal, poured it into a glass, toasted his mother, and drank it.

I thought this was so funny that I wrote home telling my parents about it. They never set foot on campus again. I did not go to graduation, but instead received my diploma by mail. That I do regret. So, as you can see, there are reasons that the Alumni Office is not interested in keeping a full history of Homecoming at my alma mater. But I wonder if those traditions are somehow not continuing on there, deeper under the surface perhaps, but there nonetheless. My visit to the college to see my son did not provide any further insights. And I did not share these with him. Yet.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cracking the Thin Veneer

The McCain campaign is veering into dangerous waters with the personal attacks on Obama for his association with Bill Ayers, his 'otherness' which the crowd takes to mean that he's a terrorist, and his support for abortion rights, which the rightwing interprets to mean he's a baby killer. I would not say that these waters are uncharted however, because this country has a long, shameful history of murders and other criminal actions encited by mob hatred and violence.

When I moved to Seattle back in 1981, one of the books that I read that summer was "USA" by John Dos Passos. It is a quintessentially American book that tells a number of stories about America during the early part of the 20th century. The one that made the greatest impression on me was the Wobblie uprising in Centralia, Washington, around the time of the first World War. (Did you know that they don't teach this as part of Washington history to our students? That shows what power it still has they they try to bury it even now) It's a vividly brutal portrait of what can happen when mob violence is unleashed. And at the end of the uprising, there were mainly IWW members who were dead with one fellow who was castrated before he was hung by the enraged mob of anti worker businesspeople of Centralia, and his body riddled by bullets. Add to that the lynch mob violence in the south that occurred during the same period, where both black men and at least one Jew: Leo
Frank, were the victims here. You begin to see the history that is embedded in our country and the power it continues to exert over some members of our society.

These days, this kind of violence is more likely carried out by a small group of people or one or two such as Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing, but they still draw inspiration from and are energized by far right wing ravings similar to those that the McCain campaign coyly hints at these days. The abortion clinic bombers and those that killed doctors who perform abortions, spring to mind as well.

For those of us living in Seattle in 1985, Christmas at that time is a somber memory. That was the year we woke up on Christmas morning to the murder of the Goldmark family by a man who was also unhinged by the right wing, who thought the Goldmarks were Jews. Here is the wikipedia article on it:

David Lewis Rice

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

David Lewis Rice (born 1958) is a follower of the Christian Identity movement who, on Christmas Eve 1985, forced his way into the Seattle home of civil rights attorney Charles Goldmark with a toy pistol and stabbed Goldmark, his wife, and two children to death. Rice, a member of the Duck Club, a right wing extremist organization, erroneously believed the family was Jewish and Communist, and saw the crime as
part of a broader religious war between American Christianity and Soviet atheism. Goldmark and his family had been active in progressive politics in Washington for years, and his parents had won a highly publicized libel suit in 1964 as part of an effort to refute accusations of past membership in the Communist Party. When confessing to the crimes, Rice called Goldmark the "top Jew" and "top Communist" in the state.

Rice was convicted in 1986 of aggravated murder for the four deaths and was sentenced to death, but the conviction was later overturned on the grounds of an incompetent defense. A sticking point of Rice's case throughout the trial process was the psychotic symptoms that he sometimes displayed, and his attorney's lack of emphasis on them. In 1998, he finally pleaded guilty to the crimes in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. He remains in prison serving out a life sentence.

Charles Goldmark was a highly respected attorney in Seattle, where I practice law to this day. These murders were particularly brutal given the time they occurred and the way in which they were done, which I still cannot bring myself to write about. And it was a right wing organization, similar to the ones that are currently ripping ACORN and Bill Ayers,that gave rise to these heinous killings.

I am also reminded of the abortion clinic bombings and murder of doctors who perform abortions that have been inspired by right wing rhetoric that is again making the rounds in the circles of those supporting McCain.

There was a highly regarded political science professor at my college, Dr. G. Theodore Mitau, who was a Holocaust survivor. His main point, when teaching his classes was that civilization is such a thin veneer that surrounds our society, that it can break with the slightest amount of pressure. McCain is truly playing with forces that can break this thin veneer of civilization, forces that he cannot control once they are set in motion. And if our veneer breaks, I am sure that he and his running mate will loudly and longly disclaim responsibility. We cannot let this happen. We must speak out and counter the voices of the mob that would break our civilization.