Tuesday, April 27, 2010

See it while you can!...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Southern Church...Honey Grove...

A Still Moment

George W. Bush was onto something in the fall of 2008 when he remarked apropos of the Lehman collapse: "...this sucker could go down."

It's my serene conviction, by the way, that this sucker actually is going down, right now, even as I clatter away at the keys -- perhaps in slow motion, so that not many other bystanders have noticed yet, and the few who have noticed are mostly too crosseyed with nausea to speak.

It's perhaps useful to define even what we mean when we say "this sucker." Everybody knows what a sucker is, of course -- say, a Midwestern public employees' union pension fund snookered into buying a fat slice of equity tranche in a Goldman Sachs-engineered CDO. But "this sucker" is something else: a rather large cargo of commercial relations, entailed obligations, hopes, expectations, habits of daily life -- indeed millions of whole lives -- loaded onto the rather creaky vessel we call modern civilization. "This sucker" was such an apt term coming from someone whose understanding of civilization was like unto that of a boy who found a PlayStation under the Christmas tree.

It's also perhaps useful to define what we mean by "going down." To my mind it means an awful lot of money disappears and nobody can pay for anything and an awful of things that have kept going on promises to pay and to get paid will stop keeping going. I don't think that the idea of money disappears -- that is, paper certificates representing claims on future work -- but there will be a lot less of it to go around. Eventually the idea of money could go, too, at least in its current form as Federal Reserve notes. But mostly for some years it will just be a lot of people, companies, and governments who are broke.

"Going down" will mean a society with no money and an infrastructure for daily life that requires gobs of money to run, and a populace too dazed, confused, and inflamed to do anything useful in the way of organizing new infrastructures for daily life for their new circumstances. In retrospect, the Great Depression of the 1930s will look like "The Philadelphia Story" compared to what we wake up to ten years from now.

President Obama's speech at Cooper Union last week was a remarkable performance. It managed to appear forceful and serious without containing any really serious or forceful proposals to discipline a banking system that is running a hostage-and-ransom racket on civilization. If this is finally what the Obama Experience is all about than his detractors have been right all along: he is a tool. Finance reform aside, there are still plenty of laws left on the statute books that could be applied to the frauds and rackets that ran absolutely amok on Wall Street the past few years. I would still like to know why buying CDS "insurance" against your own issue of bonds deliberately engineered to default is NOT a form of insider trading, to put it as simply as possible.

The SEC action against Goldman Sachs is likely to open a Pandora's box of troubles for that company, and perhaps all of the Too Big To Fail banks. But even so, I believe this sucker is going down before 99.9 percent of it is sorted out. Anyway, there was a lot about the SEC action that seemed curious, to put it mildly, from the timing of it, to the brevity of the document, to the strange fact that it emerged at all from an agency whose principal activity the past few years has been the viewing of internet porn, and which has otherwise behaved so indifferently in the face of numberless offenses to common decency, not to mention the public interest, that it might as well have been staffed by a thousand head of Holstein cows rather than licensed attorneys and graduates of accredited colleges.

This sucker is going down because the train of bankruptcies underway has a remorseless self-reinforcing power to provoke more and more bankruptcies at every stop along the line as every promise to pay is welshed on. The mortgages will not be paid and securities will not pay their investors and the banks will choke on the bad paper promises in their vaults and the pension funds will not pay their beneficiaries and the states and counties and municipalities will go broke and not pay their employees and creditors, and the federal government will not be able to "print" new money in sufficient quantities fast enough to compensate for all the money not being paid up-and-down the line... and one morning we will wake up and discover that all those promises to pay were sham promises based on no productive activity whatsoever... and that will be a sad day. Perhaps the Dow Jones Industrial Average will hit 35,000 on that day.

Nothing can stop this chain of bankruptcy. It's already baked in the cake. There is probably some wish on the part of those in charge, like Mr. Obama, to try everything possible to postpone it. And there is likewise surely a huge effort underway in the banking sector right now to cream off as much cash as possible so that when this sucker does go down they will bethink themselves better positioned to survive the consequences.

Personally, I believe that the damage was mostly done during the tenure of poor dim George W. Bush, and his predecessor Bill Clinton. I suspect that Mr. Obama learned at the height of 2008 election campaign -- during those days of the Lehman collapse and the TARP -- just how completely the government -- and the people of the USA -- were in fact hostage to the banking system, and that it has been his unfortunate role to pretend that there is some other fate to bargain for besides this sucker going down. It is probably why he continues to smoke so much. He must be lighting one Marlboro off the tip of another, one after another, in whatever inner sanctum he repairs to when the midnight chimes toll around the White House. It's sad to think of this graceful, still rather young man going down in history as the chump-of-the-century, a reincarnation of Herbert Hoover on steroids, with sugar on top.

Animosities brewing as they are among the white trash elements of the country, I just hope this sucker doesn't resolve into an ugly bout of attempted ethnic cleansing. Certainly Obama's racial make-up has inspired a revival of the Ku Klux spirit around the Nascar ovals. I'm sincerely worried that the misdeeds of people name Blankfein, Rubin, and Madoff could provoke a red-white-and-blue pogrom.

The big mystery for the moment is how come a few good men of stature in important places have not stepped forward to say the right thing or do the right deed. How come no US congressperson challenged the knavish behavior of Republicans who condone malicious idiocy that they know to be false like the so-called "birther" activity. How come no putative "progressive" has called the Democrats on their disingenuous failure to call illegal immigrants what they are. How come no state attorney general has filed charges against TBTF bank misconduct even if the US attorney general lies in state over at the US DOJ. How come no political figure of any stripe has called for the resignation of Summers, Rubin, Gensler and other Goldman Sachs "sleepers" infesting high levels of government. How come Dylan Ratigan is the only visible figure in any major newsroom willing to identify the precise nature of the meta-swindle.

When this sucker goes down, our primary task will be reorganizing American life on a much more local and de-complexified basis. It's a very big assignment and especially daunting against a possible background of political disorder. The losses will be epic and the changes severe, but it doesn't have to mean the end of recognizably American culture. There will be very little money around, and it may end up being a certificate backed by gold issued by a bank other than the Federal Reserve. Or maybe we'll just be swapping stuff for the makings of dinner.

So many forces are roiling around 'out there' now that it's hard to believe that the authorities in government and banking can keep the illusion of normality going a whole lot longer. The possible litigation against Goldman Sachs-style frauds by a thousand aggrieved victims is enough to paralyze the system. Meanwhile, trillions in credit default swaps are ticking away like dirty bombs. Greece is going down, with Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and the UK standing by to go next. Nobody can pay their bills. Before long, the old folks won't get their checks. Then the poor folks. Lately, I wonder if there will even be an election six months from now.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Some Sunday Morning black and white...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ye ole milk truck...

More Bluebonnets...

Friday, April 23, 2010

From this week's Dallas Observer...

Art With a View: Dead Photographer's Society

Daily from Wed., April 14 until Tue., May 25

O Lensman! My Lensman!

By S. Anne Durham

Don't let the name scare you. The Dead Photographer's Society is alive and well. And if members have their way, their methods of photography will remain so, too. The group was begun to share the love of black-and-white, darkroom-processed images, but also includes other genres. They've showcased work at many local venues, and they'll be at BarBelmont's Art With a View next. Art With a View opens with a reception from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and runs through May 25 at BarBelmont, 910 Fort Worth Ave. Admission is free. Call 214-393-2300 or visit belmontdallas.com.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In search of bluebonnets!...

Monday, April 19, 2010

The last couple of road trips have yielded some nice images...they tell a story of days gone by, of time lost, never to be recovered again!...

Where's Rico?

It's interesting and instructive to read The New York Times' lead story this morning, Top Goldman Leaders Said to Have Overseen Mortgage Unit. While it pretends to report all the particulars of the huge scandal growing out of Friday's SEC action against Goldman Sachs, the story really comes off as an attempt to create an alibi for the so-called "bank." It pretends that some kind of an intellectual struggle was going on among GS executives as to whether the housing market was doing just fine or poised to tank -- therefore muddling the company's intent in setting up investment deals based on sketchy mortgages designed to blow up so that a favored big customer, John Paulson, could collect on the deal insurance known as credit default swaps.

The truth is that anyone with half a brain could see the securitized mortgage fiasco coming from ten-thousand miles away. I said as much in Chapter Six ("Running on Fumes: the Hallucinated Economy") of my book The Long Emergency, which was published in 2005 but written well before that in 2002-4. And I had had no work experience whatsoever in banking generally or Wall Street investment banking in particular.

One week before the SEC action against GS, the Pro Publica website published a story about virtually the same kind of mischief being run out of the Chicago-based hedge fund Magnetar led by a clever young fellow named Alec Litowitz. Like Goldman Sachs, Magnetar deliberately constructed investments (bundles of bundled mortgage-backed securities called collateralized debt obligations) that were certain to fail so that Magnetar could collect on credit default swaps that amounted to a bet against products they themselves had participated in creating. There was no question that Litowitz and his employees did this absolutely on purpose. Nor is there any question that they aggressively sold positions in these CDOs to credulous investors like Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and others.

The question that now begs to be answered is: why is this activity not being investigated and prosecuted under the federal RICO statutes against racketeering? The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act was designed to punish exactly this kind of behavior, whether the defendant's name ended in a vowel or not. How is it not a racket to deliberately and systematically construct investments designed to fail so you can collect what amounts to insurance against them -- and then to sell those financial instruments to customers without telling them that these investments were engineered to blow up? At the very least it amounts to a failure to disclose material information, which is the basis for distinguishing illegality. More to the point, it almost certainly amounts to prosecutable criminal fraud and insider trading.

Dylan Ratigan at MSNBC asked pretty much this question on Friday when interviewing Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal (because the AIG company, headquartered in his state, sold gobs of credit default swaps to Goldman Sachs for dodgy CDOs, leading to a giant government bailout and incidental huge payoffs to Goldman Sachs). Blumenthal's answer was lame, to put it mildly -- that recent federal rules tied his hands, he claimed. He could have at least publicly protested his hand-tying and applied pressure to the US Department of Justice to enforce the anti-racketeering law.

So where is the DOJ's criminal division in all this? The Goldman Sachs racket has been publicly known, in one form or another, for several years. I wrote in this space several times at least as far back as 2007 that Goldman was essentially shorting it's own issued securities, and I'm neither a lawyer or a finance professional. Anyone could see this from just reading the news. Magnetar's activity was so notorious that the very business of engineering dodgy CDO investments to collect insurance on their failure became known throughout the industry as "the Magnetar Play."

The feigned cluelessness among some the highest-profile figures in these rackets is something to behold. For instance Citibank was among the companies that helped Magnetar put together their CDOs-designed-to-fail. Citi's chairman at the time, former US Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, testifying before the new Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission said, "Almost all of us, including me, who were involved in the financial system -- that is to say financial firms, regulators, rating agencies, analysts and commentators -- missed the powerful combination of factors that led to this crisis and the serious possibility of a massive crisis." Bank of America's CEO, Brian Moynihan, told a congressional hearing, "No one involved in the housing system -- lenders, rating agencies, investors, insurers, consumers, regulators, and policy-makers -- foresaw a dramatic and rapid depreciation in home prices" [and therefore in investment instruments based on mortgages].

Either they lie or they are profoundly stupid and incompetent. If the former, then they might be induced to spend some time talking to federal prosecutors; if the latter then the US financial system is too hopeless to survive and we will all soon be bartering hand tools and designer shoes for food. Evidence of the latter is ample, for instance, in Citigroup's loss of 70 percent share value during Robert Rubin's chairmanship -- for which, in the crash year of 2008 alone, he was paid $17 million plus $33 million in stock options.

The Goldman Sachs SEC action and the related Magnetar story seems to be a pretty big deal and appear to be dragging public opinion to a crossroads where we acknowledge the deep structural corruption of the financial system or watch the legitimacy of both banking and government dissolve. At least, it throws gouts of gasoline on the political fires lit by Tea Partiers and even more extreme political factions. I don't see how President Obama can keep Robert Rubin at his elbow or the hosts of other Goldman Sachs alumni in their federal jobs. The whole episode is disgusting in the purest sense of the word. If Obama doesn't shake these people loose, and if he doesn't pick up the phone and direct his attorney general to execute the laws -- including the RICO law -- then all the moonbeams issuing from his renowned smile will not avail to keep him in office, or keep the financial underpinning of the USA from collapse.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Girls...just wanna have fun!!!...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

From the old Mill...

The view from the patio at Bar Belmont last night!...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Art with a View..

Come join the Dead Photographers Society for the opening of their new show at Bar Belmont in the Belmont Hotel in Dallas...

The group is composed of photographers with a wide range of experience and specialties ranging from darkroom to digital techniques.

Opening reception at BarBelmont Wednesday, April 14, 2010 6-9pm (on view thru May

Monday, April 12, 2010

Anh, Sang, & Nancy...The Pham sisters...

My Hometown and Its Fate

I was in my hometown, New York City, over the weekend. Everybody, it seemed, was outside swarming in the streets and the parks in perfect strolling weather. The magnolias and dogwoods were bursting. Anything highlighted in gold leaf was all burnished up. The city's sparkling physical condition was due of course to the spectacular flow-rate of money pouring through Wall Street the past twenty years -- notwithstanding the big burp of 2008.

New York has not been in better shape in my lifetime -- even the former bad districts like the Bowery were buffed up -- but it was hard not to brood on its destiny. You could read the blocks of buildings like a chronological chart. They reflected the very sudden dynamism of this nation, the in-pouring of the continent's stupendous wealth in a very short span of decades turning Manhattan island into an urban colossus that, by 1920, stunned even the city-dwelling intellectuals of Europe.

The city exploded vertically in a very few decades when Thomas Edison's combined engineering-and-business genius made it possible to deliver electricity to every block. We'd spent the period just after the Civil War putting up limestone palaces and brick heaps as grand as the ones in Paris and London (and about the same size), and then from about 1890-on we tore them all down when the elevator made it possible to rent hundreds of apartments or office suites on the same real-estate "footprint" where there used to be only dozens of rentable units.

You could read the history of our energy resources in the buildings, too. Until about the 1920s, the buildings were heated with coal. The bulk and inconvenience of coal was mitigated by hordes of low-paid immigrants who could wrangle the stuff into basements and shovel it into furnaces in rotating work-shifts. This made it possible in, say 1908, to run a building with over a hundred apartments in it. My mother and father grew up in 20-story buildings like this.

After World War One, when battleship engines had been successfully converted from coal to oil, the furnaces of big buildings in the city followed that trend. Oil was much easier than coal to deal with, to deliver, store, and use. You just ran a hose from a truck to a tank in the basement. You didn't need a triple shift of Ukrainians to keep the boilers going. You didn't need a hundred ashcans in the alley to store cinders. This removed one of the practical limits on how big buildings could be. So by the 1920s, you got a blossoming of skyscrapers including the most awesome in the world -- the Chrysler building, the Empire State Building, objects of the sheerest amazement to people who had been born by candlelight in one-horse towns.

We would have built more things like these two extravaganzas except for the crisis of capital we call the depression -- suddenly there was no money! -- and then the Second World War happened. When that was over, New York City resumed growing upward. Only now a new fashion-code was in force: Modernism, which dictated that ornament was out, sheer, sleek surfaces were in, and the tops of the buildings had to be flat. This ushered in the era of glass boxes. After a while, it was hard to tell one from another and there wasn't much really special about any of them. Even the most canonical glass box, the Seagram building (1958) was celebrated as much for its vacant plaza fronting Park Avenue than for the brownish glass building itself. Streets like Sixth Avenue became vertigo-inducing gulches of identical glass boxes, derided everywhere except the architecture schools.

One of the dark secrets of the Modernist movement was that doing away with ornament and making flat roofs ideologically mandatory allowed corporate America to build huge buildings much more cheaply, and the huge gain in rentable floor space was an additional boon. Before long, the glass box tower could be identified with all the worst despotic features of corporate life -- presenting a blank Darth Vadarish face to the street, concealing schemes to con the public, or pollute the air and water, or pimp for the military-industrial complex.
Another thing happened after the Second World War. We were able to swap out oil furnaces in our mega-structures for natural gas. Gas was even more convenient than oil. You didn't need a truck to show up twice a month to refill the tank. Instead, a city-wide network of gas pipes distributed it continually all over town and all you had to do was open the valve. Heating a giant building now took no thought, let alone work.

Skyscraper building seemed to reach an end-point with the construction of the ill-fated Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (1970), followed by more than a decade of oil embargoes, economic disruption, supernaturally high interest rates, and political uncertainty. This was also the era when New York City hit the skids economically. Crime went off the charts. Squeegee men ran a shakedown racket on the bridge ramps. Graffiti erupted everywhere like scrofula. The town was broke and President Gerald Ford famously told the city council to "drop dead" (at least according to The New York Post). It seemed hopeless.

But by the mid 1980s, the Alaskan oil fields and North Sea took the leverage away from OPEC and the price of oil started sinking until it reached a low point of $11-a-barrel at the turn of the 21st century and, if nothing else, the suburban sprawl economy popped with its treasure trove of securitizable real estate. America might have off-loaded its greasy old industrial economy, but Wall Street was just ramping up a new trade in all kinds of "derivative" securities that created "money" out of thin air, seemingly from nothing but bundles of promises to pay back loans -- producing windfalls of bonuses for the magicians who designed these operations -- and the new riches were eventually expressed in what I believe will be seen as the city's climactic final boom in vertical real estate.

In recent years, cranes could be seen all over Manhattan hoisting up shiny new condo towers and office buildings. Suddenly we have a problem. Apart from the sheer fiasco of real estate finance that has spread through the economy like gangrene, there is the whole issue of what happens to an urban organism crammed with so many gigantic towers. What we see in New York today in the masonry-and-glass canyons seems normal, inevitable, permanent. Personally I think it is an extreme freak of history with a tragic fate.

There is a popular argument these days -- voiced memorably by New Yorker Magazine writer David Owen -- that Manhattan is the "greenest" living arrangement conceivable because you can stuff so many people onto towers on tiny pieces of land. This is an illusion, though it has come to be the prevailing notion in elite circles. The skyscraper is already a thing of the past. We just don't know it yet (the same way we don't know that Happy Motoring is near its end). Even if the shale-gas boom keeps heating prices affordable a while longer, we face a set of problems that will make the giant skyscraper city obsolete quickly. The hardware of the US electric grid is decrepit. We are short of capital. Capital is going to grow even more scarce.

The recession-depression-whatever-you-want-to-call-it that we're now in is going to be a long, gruesome slog, perhaps an abiding condition ushering in a new dark age. Without an ever-increasing supply of energy resources, the operations of compounding capital growth cease. This much is already self-evident, despite the dazzling accounting tricks of the big banks, the Federal Reserve, and the government agencies that abet them.

Probably the biggest reason that the age of the skyscraper city is over is the likelihood that we will not be able to renovate these buildings -- especially the newest ones with the glitziest systems made of the highest-tech materials, even the ones that style themselves "green." We're not going to have the capital to renovate these buildings and we are certain to not have the modular fabricated materials to get the job done. These are buildings that have only one generation of life in them. They will not be adaptively re-used, and when they fail we will not know what to do about them. Of course, they may not all fail at the same time, but at least incrementally they will all eventually lose their utility and their value. They will no longer be assets, they'll be liabilities.

The city looks great at this moment of history because of the tsunami of money that washed over it for a couple of decades. But this is the turning point. From here forward fewer things will get fixed every month. After a while it will show. We'll get back to conditions like the 1970s rather quickly, but the process won't stop there. A few centuries from now, the memory of today's normality will seem like the most exotic wonder that the human race ever produced. But most of it will be gone.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Confederate Re-enactment in Chestnut Square...

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Polish leader, 95 others dead in Russia jet crash

MOSCOW – Polish President Lech Kaczynski and some of the country's highest military and civilian leaders died on Saturday when the presidential plane crashed as it came in for a landing in thick fog in western Russia, killing 96, officials said.

Russian and Polish officials said there were no survivors on the 26-year-old Tupolev, which was taking the president, his wife and staff to events marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre in Katyn forest of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet secret police.

The crash devastated the upper echelons of Poland's political and military establishments. On board were the army chief of staff, national bank president, deputy foreign minister, army chaplain, head of the National Security Office, deputy parliament speaker, civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers, the Polish foreign ministry said.

Although initial signs pointed to an accident with no indication of foul play, the death of a Polish president and much of the Polish state and defense establishment in Russia en route to commemorating one of the saddest events in Poland's long, complicated history with Russia, was laden with tragic irony.

Reflecting the grave sensibilities of the crash to relations between the two countries, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin personally assumed charge of the investigation. He was due in Smolensk later Saturday, where he would meet Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who was flying in from Warsaw.

"This is unbelievable — this tragic, cursed Katyn," Kaczynski's predecessor, Aleksander Kwasniewski, said on TVN24 television.

It is "a cursed place, horrible symbolism," he said. "It's hard to believe. You get chills down your spine."

Andrei Yevseyenkov, spokesman for the Smolensk regional government, said Russian dispatchers asked the crew to divert from the military airport in North Smolensk and land instead in Minsk, the capital of neighboring Belarus, or in Moscow because of the fog.

While traffic controllers generally have the final word in whether it is safe for a plane to land, they can and do leave it to the pilots' discretion.

"The crew made an independent decision to land in Smolensk," Yevseyenkov said in televised remarks.

Russia's Emergency Ministry said there were 96 dead, 88 of whom were part of the Polish state delegation. Poland's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Piotr Paszkowski, said there were 89 people on the passenger list but one person had not shown up for the roughly 1 1/2-hour flight from Warsaw's main airport.

Some of the people on board were relatives of those slain in the Katyn massacre. Also among the victims was Anna Walentynowicz, whose firing in August 1980 from the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk sparked a workers' strike that spurred the eventual creation of the Solidarity freedom movement. She went on to be a prominent member.

"This is a great tragedy, a great shock to us all," former president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa said.

The deaths were not expected to directly affect the functioning of Polish government: Poland's president is commander in chief of its armed forces but the position's domestic duties are chiefly symbolic. Most top government ministers were not aboard the plane.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, there have been 66 crashes involving Tu-154s, including six in the past five years. The Russian carrier Aeroflot recently withdrew its Tu-154 fleet from service.

Poland has long discussed replacing the planes that carry the country's leaders but said they lacked the funds.

The presidential plane was fully overhauled in December, the general director of the Aviakor aviation maintenance plant in Samara, Russia told Rossiya-24. The plant repaired the plane's three engines, retrofitted electronic and navigation equipment and updated the interior, Alexei Gusev said. He said there could be no doubts that the plane was flightworthy.

The plane tilted to the left before crashing, eyewitness Slawomir Sliwinski told state news channel Rossiya-24. He said there were two loud explosions when the aircraft hit the ground.

Rossiya-24 showed footage from the crash site, with pieces of the plane scattered widely amid leafless trees and small fires burning in woods shrouded with fog. A tail fin with the red and white national colors of Poland stuck up from the debris.

Polish-Russian relations had been improving of late after being poisoned for decades over the Katyn massacre of some 22,000 Polish officers.

Russia never has formally apologized for the murders but Putin's decision to attend a memorial ceremony earlier this week in the forest near Katyn was seen as a gesture of goodwill toward reconciliation. Kaczynski wasn't invited to that event. Putin, as prime minister, had invited his Polish counterpart, Tusk.

Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev both called Tusk to express their condolences and they promised to work closely with Poland in investigating the crash. Tusk said they had been the first to offer condolences.

"On this difficult day the people of Russia stand with the Polish people," Medvedev said, according to the Kremlin press service.

Putin told Tusk that he would keep him fully briefed on the investigation, his spokesman said.

Rossiya-24 showed hundreds of people around the Katyn monument, many holding Polish flags, some weeping.

Poland's parliament speaker, the acting president, declared a week of national mourning. Tusk called for two minutes of silence at noon (1000GMT) Sunday.

"The contemporary world has not seen such a tragedy," he said.

In Warsaw, Tusk also called an extraordinary meeting of his Cabinet and the national flag was lowered to half-staff at the presidential palace, where several thousand people gathered to lay flowers and light candles. Black ribbons appeared in some windows in the capital.

Kaczynski, 60, was the twin brother of Poland's opposition leader, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Kaczynski's wife, Maria, was an economist. They had a daughter, Marta, and two granddaughters.

Lech Kaczynski became president in December 2005 after defeating Tusk in that year's presidential vote.

The nationalist conservative had said he would seek a second term in presidential elections this fall. He was expected to face an uphill struggle against Parliament speaker Bronislaw Komorowski, the candidate of Tusk's governing Civic Platform party.

The constitution says the parliament speaker announce early elections within 14 days of the president's death. The vote must be held within another 60 days.

Poland, a nation of 38 million people, is by far the largest of the 10 formerly communist countries that have joined the European Union in recent years.

Last year, Poland was the only EU nation to avoid recession and posted economic growth of 1.7 percent.

It has become a firm U.S. ally in the region since the fall of communism — a stance that crosses party lines.

The country sent troops to the U.S.-led war in Iraq and recently boosted its contingent in Afghanistan to some 2,600 soldiers.

U.S. Patriot missiles are expected to be deployed in Poland this year. That was a Polish condition for a 2008 deal — backed by both Kaczynski and Tusk — to host long-range missile defense interceptors.

The deal, which was struck by the Bush administration, angered Russia and was later reconfigured under President Barack Obama's administration.

Under the Obama plan, Poland would host a different type of missile defense interceptors as part of a more mobile system and at a later date, probably not until 2018.

Kaczynski is the first serving Polish leader to die since exiled World War II-era leader Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski in a plane crash off Gibraltar in 1943.

In the village of Gorzno, in northern Poland, the streets were largely empty as people stayed home to watch television.

"It is very symbolic that they were flying to pay homage to so many murdered Poles," said resident Waleria Gess, 73.

"I worry because so many clever and decent people were killed," said high school student Pawel Kwas, 17. "I am afraid we may have problems in the future to find equally talented politicians."


Associated Press writers Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Deborah Seward in Paris, John Daniszewski in Centerville, Ohio, and Naomi Koppel in London contributed to this report.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Shamelessly stolen from Beth over at "On the Square"...

Civil War Skirmish @ Chestnut Square This Weekend


Happy Friday everyone!...

Its a great day out! Enjoy!....

The Noble Rot
Laura Moore:  La Grave

Opening Reception

Laura Moore Fine Art Studios
Saturday, April 10th

Featuring a new series by
Laura Moore

Also, it will be a big night of art in McKinney. The 46th Annual Collin County Adult Art Show is at MPAC and many artists will be showing at various other venues around the square

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Turner Falls Oklahoma, long time ago, and on film! :)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Inside the old Mill...

Monday, April 05, 2010

A little more of Sarah Jo...

False Spring

In a place like upstate New York, north of Albany, where April is more generally known as "mud season," and the wait for "ice-out" on the big lakes takes forever, and on frigid nights the windigos steal through the tops of the tall pines -- it would seem foolish to complain about perfectly beautiful weather.

We just had a week in the 70s, with more to come. The grass went from ochre to bright green in about thirty-six hours. The buds are popping like mad. This is usually what the first week of May is like around here, and that fact alone may explain New York state's relentless population drain over the past forty years.

I was out on my bicycle, naturally, taking it all in -- like, why sit inside and sulk because the weather is strange in a pleasant way? -- and I ventured into the outlands east of town, where an impressive number of gigantic new houses had landed like alien mother-ships in the former cow pastures and wood lots. Of course, the aesthetics were an issue apart from the socio-economics of it, but nonetheless interesting.

Each new, gigantic house seemed the result of a losing struggle to reinvent basic design principles that did not require re-invention. I doubt the spirit of joyous "creativity" among the star-architects has seeped down to the level of the provincial house-builders, who, after all, are just assemblers of modular materials like dimensional lumber and eight-foot sheet-rock. It's their inability to assemble these parts coherently that's really striking, so what you get is an endless variety of mistakes along with a complete absence of anything done really well -- which may be the essence of what the "diversity" craze has really meant to us, the ethos of current times.

The abiding quality of all these houses was grandiosity (by which I do not mean grand-ness). That, too, is a signature of these times in America -- the nation too big to fail and tragically destined to do just that on account of its too big to fail-ness. And, of course, one could not fail to wonder, cruising by these hideously ponderous houses, whether as a matter of fact they were failing in terms of the owners' ability to keep up with the payments, for instance. One after another, I pictured a husband and wife within sitting in the sunny breakfast room on Easter morning humped in tears as they sorted through stacks of bills and bank statements... and I imagined the yellow foreclosure tape a few weeks hence atop the weird split-block portico treatments and misbegotten arrays of concrete balusters, and the colossal Palladianesque windows with their pathetic snap-in muntins (and the fantastic solar heat-gain, not figured-in by the designer-builder, that would turn the lawyer-foyer into something like a crematorium by two p.m.)... and the pension fund in Wisconsin or Norway that was sitting on the booby-trapped CDO that contained this sketchy mortgage and thousands of others just like it... and, well, this choo-choo of thoughts led to envisioning the train-wreck of economies and nations that lies in wait just around the bend....

One also could not fail to reflect on the recklessness of a nation that placed untold million-dollar bets on the idea that it would be possible to travel anywhere in an automobile from houses like these a few scant years from now. This far along in the tribulations of our time, most Americans still have not heard of peak oil, and the few who have regard it as some figment that Ralph Nader or Al Gore conjured up on an acid trip in a sweat lodge. The more sophisticated among the mentally unwashed are certain that the earth has a creamy nougat center of low-sulfer light crude oil, or they heard that the Bakken formation in Dakota holds more oil than Saudi Arabia, or that the whole US car and truck fleet will be electrified in a year or two, or that we can drill-baby-drill our way to permanent oil abundance, or just that the American can-do spirit will come up with something to keep Happy Motoring alive because we're the greatest! Such grandiosity!

Personally, I look at these houses scattered around what was only recently a dedicated farm landscape and I am quite sure that the denizens within will be marooned in their great rooms, and that very probably many of them will have no job to go to -- in the conventional sense of what we think a job is, in some corporation or institution -- and that in a surprisingly short span of years these buildings will be ruins or squats. I think these thoughts after struggling up a rather steep hill more than half-a-mile (and many others previously). A trip anywhere from here, to do anything, and the return trip, would occupy an entire day even for someone in decent physical condition. Somebody accustomed to rations of Cheez Doodles and Mountain Dew would be dead by then. There will be lots of dead.

On the macro level, the feeling spreads across the USA that our troubles are behind us. Employment is ticking up. The S & P index only goes up now. The banks have stabilized and those "toxic assets" (which I call "frauds" and "swindles") have been disarmed and safely buried under Yucca Mountain. Housing starts may still be weak, but the "gaming" industry is making great strides in places like the old Puritan commonwealth of Massachusetts, so soon we'll have a virtually automatic economy of leisure-and-entertainment paid for by creaming off a small percentage of the quarters pumped into video slot stations. No doubt the Chinese will be jealous and try to imitate us.

All these lovely mild days, I was not unconscious of the eeriness of the weather and the possible insidious effects of it on the local ecosystem in everything from the added generations of deer ticks carrying Lyme disease and the death of the honeybees to the fate of this year's apple crop. I confess: it made me very nervous. Something is happening... out there.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Recovered...from almost lost hard drive...

Happy Easter Everyone!