26 September 2008

News and Such

So many things in the past week and a half. L.A. trip + reunion with good friends far away + beautiful wedding = happy smiles (see above, looking very Dawson's Creek/90210).

Two items of newsy interest passed on by the lovely Miss S. (now on blogspot!) this week: check out the Personalities of States and revel in the neuroticism or lack thereof (if you're from Oregon) of your home state. And for the future professors out there, enjoy the total lack of rationality in relying on student evaluations for tenure decisions.

Of course you've all heard about the Washington Mutual badness of last night -- as a WaMu customer I was of course concerned and immediately logged on to their site to ensure that my negative checking account balance was adequately protected. I do enjoy having no investments or income capable of being lost. Actually, I went to their site last night to see what they said about it, and this letter was posted there instead, from Monday:

To Our Valued Customers:

September 22, 2008

As WaMu's new chief executive officer, I am writing to discuss the extraordinary economic environment for all banks in the United States and why you can count on us to continue to serve you safely and soundly.

When I was recently approached about the opportunity to lead this great company, I did my homework to satisfy myself that WaMu has the capital, the liquidity, and the business plan to serve your needs and protect your money through these challenging times. Let me explain why I felt good about joining WaMu.

All financial institutions have been affected by the turmoil in the mortgage and financial markets, but WaMu is very different from the investment banks, such as Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, that you may have read about. Those firms have very different sources of funding than we do. WaMu's business is funded largely through the deposits that customers like you put with us. We also borrow billions of dollars from the Federal Home Loan Banks system.

Most importantly, your deposits are insured to the limits established by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). (WaMu partners at your local WaMu store are happy to work with you to maximize your FDIC insurance coverage.)

Capital ratios describe the financial strength of a bank. Our ratios continue to be well in excess of the levels that government regulators require of "well capitalized" institutions. We also have an ample supply of funds on hand to meet your needs and the needs of our other customers and our day-to-day operations.

These strengths, combined with our tradition of superior products and services, are why we continue to welcome new customers every day.

I also expect that comprehensive and constructive plans recently announced by the government will shore up confidence in the U.S. banking system considerably. These plans, if approved by Congress, would remove up to $700 billion of troubled assets from the balance sheets of American financial institutions. There are also provisions to protect financial companies from disruptive rumors and speculation that are fueled by abusive stock trading practices.

Other government actions are already underway and are expected to lend even more security to the nation's financial system. The Federal Reserve announced that it will open its discount window to financial institutions to enable them to purchase certain assets from money market funds. This provides increased financial flexibility. The Federal Reserve also recently granted requests from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley that will allow them to take deposits, thereby increasing the resources available to both companies. A more stable national financial system is good for WaMu and good for customers.

I came to WaMu because I think it is a great bank with a strong franchise and a solid financial position. We take very seriously our role as the stewards of your hard-earned money. I want to personally thank you for your loyalty and the opportunity to serve your needs.


Alan Fishman
Chief Executive Officer

I had to repost this here because it was of course taken down between last night and this morning. Hee. And yeesh. And ouch. And that's all I have to say about that right now.

Finally, on the victory garden front of the economic devastation, I would like to encourage you to make the following tomato sauce. It is like crack. Like delicious, delicious, addictive sauce of crack and tomatoes and garlic. I've made five batches so far that are now stored away for winter hard times. Didn't actually have much choice given how many tomato plants I put in this year.

Take a dozen or more tomatoes (they don't have to be the prettiest or ripest either), cut them in halves or quarters, squeeze gently to get the wateriness down slightly, and lay on cookie sheets (takes two) cut-side up. Take two or three heads of garlic, peeled, and scatter the cloves on the tomatoes. I also add about half a loosely chopped red onion, and then put salt, pepper, olive oil (don't skimp), a dash of balsamic vinegar, sprinkle of sugar, and any herbs you have lying around (I've used thyme, basil, parsley and some fresh oregano). Put it in the oven at around 250 or 275 for between an hour and an hour and a half. When everything looks soft and golden, crank it to 400 for about 10-15 minutes to fully set the caramelization. Remove. Blend or stick it in the food processor until creamy/chunky. Yum.

16 September 2008

Books, Movies and History

This weekend I presented at a political science/law conference at the law school here. It was a useful reminder about both disciplinary boundaries and the purposes of interdisciplinary work. In short, I don't speak poli sci. I speak history. And I speak law, at least in a semi-legitimate way. One of the complaints I heard the political scientists make was that the election coverage on the news right now never has any political scientists, instead they interview historians. I smirked a little, since I tend to think history is what's missing from most poli sci (though the best work in that field treats historical context very seriously).

We watched Penelope last night, cute, a bit silly, kind of the fairy tale of a rich girl accepting herself. As you can imagine, I would prefer that she were not quite such a richy rich, but it was cute enough. Last week we watched Last King of Scotland, which I both hated and liked. I hated it for most of the film, especially when I had the impression that the audience is supposed to be empathizing with James McAvoy's absolute jackass of a character, who has no redeeming qualities. The idea of showing the story of Uganda from the perspective of this irresponsible, idiot white guy who I suspect is supposed to be "charming" just ticked me off. I liked it for the last fifteen minutes basically. Forest Whitaker (who is incredible in this role) gives a badass speech at the end that calls out the "white man's burden" and I imagine that for those who identified with McAvoy's character in the rest of the movie, it was probably - hopefully - a powerful moment of awareness. So, I'm still of two minds about the movie.

I got to read lots of novels on my recent trip to BC, and I have to give a mini-review of one here. The Road is very good. And I don't think you need to read it. Seriously, I loved Blindness and recommended it to people, but that book was haunting and depressing and dark. And it's like a Disney fairy tale compared to The Road. So, I guess that makes The Road an effective book, and it's certainly well-written, but why do that to yourself? Read something with some human redemption. The world is already depressing enough much of the time.

Finally, if anyone has an efficient use for two dozen purple tomatillos, I'd love to hear it!

07 September 2008

Harvest and Tesh. Also, Bobcats Welcome!

It's definitely harvest time around here -- this is the haul from a casual picking this morning in the backyard, I got scared away from the broccoli, parsley, chard, and the other squash by the bees. (I'm helping bees! I feel absurdly happy about this. And, when I'm out there, I wish they weren't quite so all around me.) I've been drying cherry tomatoes all day -- pounds of them got picked on Friday, thanks to E -- so we can have tons of sun-dried tomatoes all winter without paying $10/ounce. I keep making plans for preserving things like the pears that are all over our yard or making and freezing batches of basil and parsley pesto. I'm clearly in squirrel mode, hoarding nuts for the cold season.

Last night, in a grad student experience that I cannot be alone in, I finished a paper that was due this morning (at 11:00 at night) and then decided to halve, seed and marinade my cherry tomatoes in preparation for drying them today. In awesome Saturday night badassery, I listened to the John Tesh show during my midnight tomato-gutting (a messy process). I learned so much important life information, people. Like, dress for the job you want! No flip-flops and miniskirts at work! Since at least 1/3 of the reason I went to grad school is a lifetime excuse for wearing tweed and professory clothes, I completely endorse this. I also learned that cars are expensive (!) and that the squatters in the foreclosed house next door are totally drug-dealers who you should call the cops on ASAP. Or, they could be bobcats. I'm hoping we'll get some bobcats in this neighborhood, maybe they'd like to eat some tomatoes. Plus, how cute? I promised kittens, and I deliver!

03 September 2008

Summer Vacation = Over!

Obviously I took a little summer vacation from blogging -- no excuses, but now I'm feeling that back-to-school, autumnal, Virgo, Septembery, pumpkins and maple leaves, fresh sharp pencils and first day outfits vibe, so I'm back. Rather than try to summarize the finer points of summer fun, which I will get to in due time (for anyone who's still reading!), I just have to share a story from the last week of the daily summer US history class I taught. That class, by the way, was a large part of the delay in blogging and other areas (sorry garden!).

I assigned this book, which is an excellent, if a bit academic, history of corporate power moving intra- and inter-nationally in pursuit of cheap, young, nonunionized female labor. But more than that, it's about communities of workers in these different places -- Camden, New Jersey; Bloomington, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico -- and how much they had/have in common with one another. Long story short, wouldn't it be nice if workers had as much of an international identification with others with similar interests as corporations do? Good lefty labor history type stuff. Of course only two students actually finished it, but whatev.

The real story is what happened when we had a discussion of the book. Since they hadn't read it, I quickly resorted to those sad teacher tricks, like asking "what IS community?" (groan) But, we do what we must. When I got blank stares for that, I tried to personalize it with an example. Here's the conversation:

Me: Are you in a community with other State Research University students?
Them: Yes! (emphatic)
Me: What about with the students at Other Big State University 50 miles away?
Them: Yeah, totally, sure!
Me: OK...what about other college students in other states? Nationwide?
Them: Hmmmm...it depends.
Me: Harvard? Penn? NYU?
Them: Yeah, we are!
Me: Uh-huh...what about with students at Small Local Community College?
Them: No, no. Not really.
Me: What about with the city of ____ (in which their university is located and which sucks up all life forms in its vicinity)?
Them: No. Nope, not a community with them.
Me: Discussion over. Time for another documentary.

That about sums up the problem. And they're not wrong. Like the corporations in the book, they have a clear understanding (if a bit inflated -- Harvard? Come now!) of their interests and identities rooted in class and educational privilege that span state and even national boundaries. And they were not at all concerned about not participating in the community whose resources they exhaust and whose residents clean their shiny campus buildings and serve them their turkey wraps. After this we never came back to the book because I realized it was a moot point. For them. Which they know well.

Future blog posts will be about sunshine, kittens and ripe tomatoes!