Custom Search

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Real Numbers On The Paulson Bailout

The Paulson Bailout has now cost $4.6165 trillion dollars! Hard to wrap your head around a number that big, right? Consider- this bailout is now more expensive than the cost of World War II, adjusted for inflation (which is $3.6 trillion), PLUS the Vietnam War, adjusted for inflation ($698 billion), PLUS the S & L Crisis, adjusted for inflation ($256 billion)! And that is just from Barry Ritholtz on his The Big Picture.

Over at Bloomberg, they calculate Paulson's tab at $7.76 trillion. According to that figure, every man, woman, and child in America is on the hook for (sit down) $24,000.

Thanks Wall Street for the new student loan. Can you at least send us all a BA in Business? I think we've earned it.

Somebody better get in that recording studio and record 'China, Can You Spare A Dime?'

What pisses me off most about this crisis is that Friday evening we will all watch our idiot neighbors skulk off from dying big box stores with their BluRay players and laptops. Because we shouldn't consider that thing are going to get worse, right? No, no, NEVER stop spending.


Monday, November 24, 2008

The Trouble With Citigroup

Citigroup became the very latest domino to fall in '08's Great American Bank Bailout. According to today's Economist, we will guarantee $306 billion dollars of bad mortgage debt and give them $20 billion in cash in return for $27 billion dollars in rapidly dropping Citgroup stock. What a deal!

How did America's largest bank find itself in such desperate straits? Greed, lack of oversight, and...did I mention greed? According to the Times, David C. Bushnell, Citigroup's senior risk officer, was buddy-buddy with the traders he was meant to oversee.

It was common in the bank to see Mr. Bushnell waiting patiently — sometimes as long as 45 minutes — outside Mr. Barker’s office so he could drive him home to Short Hills, N.J., where both of their families lived. The two men took occasional fly-fishing trips together; one expedition left them stuck on a lake after their boat ran out of gas.

Because Mr. Bushnell had to monitor traders working for Mr. Barker’s bond desk, their friendship raised eyebrows inside the company among those concerned about its controls.

"Hey, Dave, remember that time we ran out of gas on your boat?"

"Yeah, Randy?"

"That was awesome!"

"Sure was, Randy. But not as awesome as the time I helped you take on billions in unsecured mortage debt, which would later almost cause our whole bank to collapse!"

"Yeah, that was wicked. But, hey, we still have our jobs."

And there's the rub. The good news today from the Washington Post is that the Obama Deal sounds like it will be $700 billion on infrastructure and jobs. The bad news is that tax cuts are included with that package, which will make it all the more expensive eventually. And that Obama is being advised by former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, who was (who woulda thunk it?) an 'influential director and senior advisor' at Citibank!

NO, President-elect Obama. No damaged goods. They made the mess, they do not advise on the clean-up. Or do you need to be reminded of the current Treasury Mess, Hank Paulson? Send Rubin away. Now. We're watching.

Today's Big Dumb Idea

Ever want to go for a jog, but stopped because you really hate pavement? Or maybe you're just looking for another way to make that broken-wing hop you do even more ridiculous? Shambollocks presents the Treadmobile!

Wow. I'll just let that video speak for itself.

Kal-El Lands In Canada

Last night, a giant meteorite smashed into an area near the Alberta/ Saskatchewan border. The reunited Alpha Flight was believed to be on their way to inspect the extraterrestrial debris.

Water From Air

It has been said that the resource wars of the future will be not be over oil, but water. 'Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink' remains as true today as when it was written two hundred years ago in some areas of the world. Water surrounds us, but the ability to provide potable delivery to an increasing global population will make for one of the largest challenges of the 21st century. But what if we could pull the water simply and cleanly from the atmosphere?

Shambollocks introduces you to WaterMill, invented by the company Element Four, which went on display at Wired's bazaar of developing technologies. For the electrical cost of three light bulbs, the WaterMill, mounted outside your home, will work as a dehumidifier, providing your home with water pulled from the atmosphere. The technology will retail for a pricey $1,200 when released in the States, but don't think that will stop the hip greens on your block.

Bldgblog goes a bit further on their entry on the WaterMill, imagining a city which undergoes permanent drought because of the absence of humidity. No rain. No snow. I can do without the humidity here in Chicago, but I'll still need snow. Maybe we reenginer the WaterMills in winter.

It's The Economy, Charlie Brown!

Poor George W. Bush. Watch as his peers in the developed world refuse to shake his hand. We can learn something from this. First, nobody loves you internationally when you're down and out, especially when, as leader of the Capitalist Cult, they blame you for much of the current world financial mess. Reputations change overnight. One moment you're leading a 'Coalition of the Willing', which includes Poland and Great Britain. The next you're being snubbed by the cool kids in the International Club.

Second, we would be foolish to believe that leaders this churlish will bend over backwards for the incoming Obama administration. Diplomacy is always hard work, and when you're surrounded by people who are Number 1s in their own land it is difficult to engender deference. I believe they will immediately embrace Obama, but rhetoric and action are often strange bedfellows.

Secretary of State Hillary (maybe?) will need to work on her very best Avon push.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Detroit Broke City

Paul Ingrassia in today's Wall Street Journal writes that bailout or not, Detroit is broke.

Yesterday, congressional leaders gave the car companies until Dec. 2 to come up with viable business plans and renew their request for aid. Meanwhile, it's worth examining the myths that are shaping this debate. One is GM's assertion that "bankruptcy is not an option." In truth, GM already has conceded that it's bankrupt -- by publicly stating it's nearly out of cash and needs emergency assistance. The company hasn't made a formal bankruptcy filing, which is no small matter. But it has declared bankruptcy everywhere else. Chrysler, at this week's Senate committee hearing, did the same.

A second myth is that management changes in Detroit would be pointless. GM CEO Rick Wagoner said he wouldn't resign to secure federal aid for his company. This was like Louis XIV saying, "L'√Čtat c'est moi." Mr. Wagoner explained that he didn't see "what purpose would be served." Well, the same one served by the presidential election in this country three weeks ago: to bring in somebody new to try some fresh ideas to fix things.

Mr. Wagoner has been GM's chief executive officer for eight years. Even before this year's calamity struck (the company lost $181,000 per minute in the second quarter), the company's U.S. market share, financial results and stock price had plunged precipitously.

$181, 000 per minute! I don't know about what Paul thinks, but it takes real talent to blow that kind of money. Hell, I don't know if Hank Paulson could come up with that kind of money loser.

Let Detroit go bankrupt. Under bankruptcy protection, they can start to open up the union contracts and other legacy costs which guarantee they lose money on every car they sell (yes, you actually read that right). The restructuring should come with the resignations of Wagoner from GM and Nardelli from Chrysler.

Congress passed the first important step-a step which I was very skeptical they would make. They turned down the Detroit 3 once. They stripped Hot Rod John Dingell of his chairmanship. All very impressive. But the automakers shall return in January for round two. We must make sure we don't throw more of our money toward a broken industry.

- Mitt Romney, scion of Detroit's ruling class, wrote in Tuesday's New York Times that we should let Detroit go bankrupt.

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check
When I agree with Mitt Romney, you better believe we're reaching some kind of consensus on this issue.

Holy Flaming Crosses, Batman!

Christmas is upon us, and what is a better gift for the black, Jewish, or Catholic Obama supporter on your list than the American Family Association's Christmas Cross? Yes, nothing better displays your love of white supremacy and Christian arrogance than this 5.5 foot tall cross with 210 lights. Sure, it may bear a striking resemblance to other potent symbols from our troubled past, but why should you care? You're a member of God's chosen people!

White sheets sold separately.

Thanks to my buddy Pat Winters for the info.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

'Eidoko Varos'

Real slow news day today. How many ways can the press play the 45 'The Economy Sucks' b/w 'Barack Is Coming!' without everyone rolling their eyes? What we need is something to blow off the dust, a palette cleanser for the tough times and the always tough holiday season. From distant Athens, Greece comes Fantastikoi Hxoi with a futuristic number called 'Eidoko Varos'. The song reminds of the early electronic work of Brian Eno. It will take you into a future far from now, where our retinas make our purchases for us and we all have bar codes tatooed on our foreheads.

I'm blaming all of this gloom and doom on the fact that I'm listening to Kill 'Em All.

Thanks to 20jazzfunkgreats for the track.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

'The Kids Don't Stand A Chance'

Shambollocks has already tooted the horn of Vampire Weekend. No Age has my Best New American Band designate at this time, but VW is still a contender. The dance remix duo known as Chromeo have reworked 'The Kids Don't Stand A Chance' from VW's January debut into the kind of upbeat dance track you need on a Wednesday evening. This song makes me want to vacuum, so I can dance and make all kinds of foot marks in the staticky carpet. The weekend is just around the corner! Thanks to The Tape Is Not Sticky for the track.

Whither Iceland? (UPDATE)

We in America are in tough straits economically. Unemployment is growing. Credit is next to impossible to obtain. The domestic auto industry stands outside our homes with a hat out for change. My generation has never seen our fiscal security look so bleak. But we at Shambollocks are always keen to look at the bright side of things.

We're not Icelanders.

The country of Iceland is bankrupt. Yes, the entire country. Last month, citizens were unable to use their credit cards. Icelanders on holiday found themselves stranded, with no bank willing to exchange their currency. Their stores sat bare, as they fought to even achieve the bare minimal goal of feeding themselves.

How does a Western economy find itself completely broke? The Financial Times over the weekend had a great account on what life is like in Bjork Country.

Picture a pig trying to balance on a mouse’s back and you’ll get some idea of the scale of the problem. In a mere seven years since bank deregulation and privatisation, Iceland’s financial institutions had managed to rack up $75bn of foreign debt. In his address to the nation, Haarde put the problem in perspective by referring to the $700bn financial rescue package in America: “The huge measures introduced by the US authorities to rescue their banking system represent just under 5 per cent of the US GDP. The total economic debt of the Icelandic banks, however, is many times the GDP of Iceland.”

And here is the nub. Iceland’s banks borrowed more than $250,000 for every man, woman and child in Iceland, and placed an impossible burden on the modest reserves of the central bank in the event of default. And default they have.

OK, so things most definitely could be worse for all of us. We are still looking for a leader to emerge from our economic struggle, but at least we can still buy food. In fact, at this very moment I have a casserole almost done which smells delicious. I plan to dig in and give thanks that as bad as everything is right now, I know tomorrow will be better. And I'm sure that will hold true for the industrious Icelandic people.

But just in case, next Sigur Ros show you attend, bring some canned goods. They may need it.

- UPDATE: On Sunday, protests broke out in Iceland over the arrest of a protester. They eventually degraded into a clash with police. Cue the Stones' 'Street Fighting Man'.

'Punk Rock Is A Joke'

That was the instant opinion of a Dallas youth after walking out early from a Sex Pistols show there in January, 1978 (a very special month indeed). The Pistols played the Longhorn Ballroom, a Dallas institution which at one point was owned by Bob Wills and, later, Jack Ruby.

The video is great for all you rock historians, if just for the marquee outside the Longhorn, which advertises a Merle Haggard show beneath the Sex Pistols. There is also an intellectually stimulating interview with one Sid Vicious. Sid couldn't score heroin as easily in Texas and, suffering from withdrawal, would spit blood at a woman who climbed the stage and punched him.

The Pistols' 1978 US tour was one of rock's great debacles. By the time they reached the final date in San Francisco, every band member wanted to call it quits. We at Shambollocks feel we owe the Pistols quite a bit. Literally.

Thanks to WFMU's Beware of the Blog for the vid.

- In other rock news, my instant verdict on No Age, after a second time seeing them last night- best new band to come out of the States in a couple of years. If you pine for '80s punk, or are a big Husker Du or Mudhoney fan you should definitely check them out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Circumcisions Daily

Need to get your baby boy's top popped? Circumciser Ismet Dural came up with this hilarious and ingenious way to advertise his services. Enjoy.

Waiting For The Obama Deal

When President Obama gets sworn into office on the 20th of January, he will have a wonderful opportunity to transform the relationship between the federal government and society. For twenty-eight years, and in particular the last eight, the federal government's number one priority was to destroy itself. Congress after congress, administration after administration, we sold off our government, piece by piece. The resulting chaos could be seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. Both incidents drew attention to our national irresponsibility to our infrastructure and to ourselves. This America lay prostrate at home in full view of the world.

Today, Hank Paulson and Ben Berneke speak to Congress on their spending of the $700 billion blank check Congress handed them six weeks ago. Thankfully, this will be the last Bush Administration fleecing of the American pocketbook. Voters everywhere spoke loudly two weeks ago. We are sick and tired of funding a corporate welfare state. We need a new vision of American domestic policy. And we can find that vision in the past.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt entered office in January of 1933 with America at its lowest ebb since the Civil War. Over the next hundred days his administration was a legislation machine, throwing a hundred crazy ideas at Congress. The resulting New Deal did not get us out of the Depression, but it did put regular Americans back in charge of their own destiny. They built bridges. They paved new roads. They wired power lines. They painted murals. They recorded indigenous music. You may not place a high priority on these actions, but they are the nuts and bolts of a nation. The heart and soul of a nation. What example does America offer to the world when we ask others to help us off the mat? We need to own our best interests, not sell them to China or India. We can do this, because we have done it before. We need an Obama Deal which invests in us, not in corporations.

If the above stump steech leaves you less than motivated, New York magazine also asks for renewed public investment. Check it out.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Star Wars Storyboards

In my quest to post all neat Stars Wars-related net finds for my fellow geeks, here is a flickr slideshow with a host of original storyboards. Very cool stuff, and worth a momentary dork-out.

Merril Lynch? Anyone? Merril Lynch?

"My boyfriend's brother's cousin's sister saw Merril Lynch overextend themselves on junk bonds made up of packaged bad mortgages a few months ago on Wall Street."

Hilarious! Peter Schiff, the President of Euro Pacific Capital, Inc., is a talking head on a number of business channels. This video is made up of a series of his cable appearances where he consistently does his best Chicken Little while the smarmy Wall Street mouth pieces laugh him off the screen. The first four minutes are not great, but wait, wait, until the six minute mark when, on FoxNews no less, none other than Ben Stein himself advises us last year to buy Merril Lynch stock. And then the the blonde with the fish lips says to buy Goldman Sachs (HA!). The capper comes in a minute when Charles tells us to buy Washington Mutual (HA! HA!).

I remember when people would say someone worked at Merril Lynch with such reverence, like the bank was run by MacArthur genius grant winners. I would look at them cross-eyed, because I knew that person growing up, and knew they were throwing around a plumber's savings about on Bosnian internet firms while firing off forwards from Brokers are gamblers, even if we give them an illusion of non-Las Vegas legitimacy. The only differences between the Golden Girl feeding her Social Security quarters into a slot in Joliet and the 25-year old handling your savings at an investment bank is that at least the Golden Girl knows she can't game the system and doesn't get paid out for losing.

Do not let these hacks get government money. After this recession, do not let these hacks control our pension funds and savings. Wall Street has been the high-class arena for hucksters and modern-day carpetbaggers for too long. Before you take financial advice from anyone, ANYONE, in the future, make sure you know where they make their money. And never buy stock from someone on TV.

Not even if he stole a John Hughes film.

Sidelight-Schiff was an economic adviser to Ron Paul, so to all my PaulHead readers, cheers! Who looks crazy now?

We Are Old- Living Proof

Yes, that is the 17-year old from the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind. Nothing like a picture to jab you right in the gut and tell you that your unresolved adolescent self-image problems are now a real-life adolescent. You feel stupid. It's contagious.

Thanks to PopWatch, Entertainment Weekly's blog.

Iran Won't Bring Back Its Bat And Ball

Life imitates high school. You wanted to hang out with the Bad Kids in high school because you identified with them and the administration treated them with disgust. As long as deans told them to cut their hair and teachers called them stoners, the Bad Kids always had ready appeal. Why can't the adults just leave them alone? What business is theirs how long the Bad Kids hair is?

If you were a bright dean, you wouldn't harass those misfit Bad Kids. You would co-opt them. Bring up how you both listen to Led Zeppelin. Humanize them. Now, the Bad Kids don't seem so bad. They look more like all of us nerds. And as a nerd, maybe I don't look so good with this long hair. Maybe I'd better cut it off. The Bad Kids need to react. Either they continue their surliness and lose their audience, or they adapt to society and try to rein in all that anti-social behavior.

During the campaign, President-elect Obama expressed a willingness to open constructive diaglogue with Iran. Iran is the current worldwide Bad Kid. They have made much hay from the monumental mistakes of the Bush Administration. They are the little shit in the back of the class, middle finger extended, nuclear material (maybe) in their pocket. Iran's appeal lies not in its policies, which, as a Shiite theocracy, are not attractive to the vast majority of the Arab public. No, they're cool because they stand up to us and Israel. They refuse to stop processing uranium. They play our allies off of each other.

But Obama wants to talk, unconditionally. The Arab public's reaction to his election was strongly positive. The new dean doesn't want conflict anymore, and neither does the student body. According to Thursday's Washington Post, Iran won't cut their hair.

"People who put on a mask of friendship, but with the objective of betrayal, and who enter from the angle of negotiations without preconditions, are more dangerous," Hossein Taeb, deputy commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, said Wednesday, according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

"The power holders in the new American government are trying to regain their lost influence with a tactical change in their foreign diplomacy. They are shifting from a hard conflict to a soft attack," Taeb said.

Keep up the pressure, incoming Obama administration. Unless we see a spike in oil soon, Iran's regime will be on the ropes. Let's let the Bad Kid define itself without that bad 'ole dean image handy. Don't withdraw the offer to talk, and stay positive. We can't get the Arab public to cut their hair overnight, but we can humanize everybody and that's a huge first step. Let's make the Arab public think for themselves, and not allow our policies to be ignored through the Bad Kid's ignorance and our heavy-handedness.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Michael Lewis Gives A Post-Mortem

Today is nuts. The web is just alive with great material about the end of Old Capital. Is it just a coincidence that the Republicans have been run out of town on a rail at exactly the same time that Wall Street decided to kill itself? Hmm, I'll let that one be rhetorical.

Michael Lewis, author of Liar's Poker and Moneyball, wrote in yesterday's Conde Nast Portfolio a post-mortem of the Wall Street we knew. What killed the golden calf? A truly toxic combination of greed and arrogance. But mostly just pure, unadulterated greed.

And short Eisman did—then he tried to get his mind around what he’d just done so he could do it better. He’d call over to a big firm and ask for a list of mortgage bonds from all over the country. The juiciest shorts—the bonds ultimately backed by the mortgages most likely to default—had several characteristics. They’d be in what Wall Street people were now calling the sand states: Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada. The loans would have been made by one of the more dubious mortgage lenders; Long Beach Financial, wholly owned by Washington Mutual, was a great example. Long Beach Financial was moving money out the door as fast as it could, few questions asked, in loans built to self-destruct. It specialized in asking home­owners with bad credit and no proof of income to put no money down and defer interest payments for as long as possible. In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000.

More generally, the subprime market tapped a tranche of the American public that did not typically have anything to do with Wall Street. Lenders were making loans to people who, based on their credit ratings, were less creditworthy than 71 percent of the population. Eisman knew some of these people. One day, his housekeeper, a South American woman, told him that she was planning to buy a townhouse in Queens. “The price was absurd, and they were giving her a low-down-payment option-ARM,” says Eisman, who talked her into taking out a conventional fixed-rate mortgage. Next, the baby nurse he’d hired back in 1997 to take care of his newborn twin daughters phoned him. “She was this lovely woman from Jamaica,” he says. “One day she calls me and says she and her sister own five townhouses in Queens. I said, ‘How did that happen?’ ” It happened because after they bought the first one and its value rose, the lenders came and suggested they refinance and take out $250,000, which they used to buy another one. Then the price of that one rose too, and they repeated the experiment. “By the time they were done,” Eisman says, “they owned five of them, the market was falling, and they couldn’t make any of the payments.”
This is some far-out, Apocalypse Now kind of financial irresponsibility. I'm glad the guys who ran those investment banks are out-of-pocket. No one would match that insanity by hiring one of those CEOs to head, I don't know, the Treasury Department. Guess again.

The Bush Administration. Making dumbfoundingly awful decisions all the way through to January 19, 2009.

Paulson's Pot Of Gold

Shambollocks is on record as against the bailout. Open taxpayer checkbooks will not get us out of this crisis. Responsible leadership will. When Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson asked for $700 billion dollars of our money from Congress, I was more than a little skeptical. First, he wanted complete control of the money with very little oversight. Second, as a life-long employee of Goldman Sachs, he would personally profit from a government buyout of Sachs' bad debt. Third, he did not lay out a coherent vision for where the money would go.

I don't like to say I told you so, but today's New York Times reports that Paulson doesn't know what he's doing. Plan A, buying bad debt, is out the window. Plan B, creating some kind of government 'bank' which would foster lending, sounds thoroughly half-baked. The Democrats want to give money to Detroit to save the unions. President-elect Obama remains silent. One, he's not President. Two, this is a seemingly no win situation. I have an idea. Why don't we sit down and take a little time to come up with a coherent strategy between the incoming and outgoing administrations instead of playing the 'React to the Dow Jones' game? The economic teams from both sides get into a room for a week, come out and tell the American people where we're going. Even if a solid solution isn't reached, it would at least show that both parties can lead through a crisis together.

Bad money has already left the building. Let's make sure the next semis of cash that leave the Treasury have a well-thought out plan behind them. Please.

- Details on the complete lack of congressional oversight on the $700 billion (of which $290 billion is already gone) in today's Washington Post.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

P.J. O'Rourke Plays Taps

One of the few reasons to read Rolling Stone during the '90s (when I read it religiously thinking it would turn me into Hunter S., when instead it turned me into someone who inexplicably owns a Live CD) was the work of P.J. O'Rourke. Smart, funny as hell, he was the main reason I loathed the Democrats during the '90s. In short, he gave me much early education in politics. When I stopped reading Rolling Stone, I stopped reading P.J. I don't even know if he writes for the Stone anymore, it has been that long since I picked one up. I digress.

From this week's Weekly Standard, Mr. O'Rourke on where conservatives went wrong. Very, very, funny. The man can still cut.

In how many ways did we fail conservatism? And who can count that high? Take just one example of our unconserved tendency to poke our noses into other people's business: abortion. Democracy--be it howsoever conservative--is a manifestation of the will of the people. We may argue with the people as a man may argue with his wife, but in the end we must submit to the fact of being married. Get a pro-life friend drunk to the truth-telling stage and ask him what happens if his 14-year-old gets knocked up. What if it's rape? Some people truly have the courage of their convictions. I don't know if I'm one of them. I might kill the baby. I will kill the boy.

The real message of the conservative pro-life position is that we're in favor of living. We consider people--with a few obvious exceptions--to be assets. Liberals consider people to be nuisances. People are always needing more government resources to feed, house, and clothe them and to pick up the trash around their FEMA trailers and to make sure their self-esteem is high enough to join community organizers lobbying for more government resources.

If the citizenry insists that abortion remain legal--and, in a passive and conflicted way, the citizenry seems to be doing so--then give the issue a rest. Meanwhile we can, with the public's blessing, refuse to spend taxpayers' money on killing, circumscribe the timing and method of taking a human life, make sure parental consent is obtained when underage girls are involved, and tar and feather teenage boys and run them out of town on a rail. The law cannot be made identical with morality. Scan the list of the Ten Commandments and see how many could be enforced even by Rudy Giuliani.

God, P.J. How I wish you were on my side. Either way, it's good to read you again, and know you'll be sticking pins in the Democrats for the next eight years at least, which is what you do best.

The Grant Park Countdown

Enjoy. The above is footage of the countdown to 10:00 PM CST in Grant Park, when Barack Obama was declared President by CNN. Goose bumps. Check. Go see other victory celebrations around the world at the Countdown to Victory blog.

Hiroshima: The Photos

On August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped a uranium bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. 130,000 people blew up instantaneously or were incinerated within seconds. It was the wrath of God, unlocked by science. Harry Truman, our President at the time, agonized over the decision and truly never put it to rest. The debate over the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the city we bombed three days later (at a cost of 80, 000 lives), will most likely never end. I myself am torn over the topic. A dear family friend may have had his life saved by the bombs. On the other hand, why bring total war to a country where defeat was fact except in the mind of its military leaders? Since those two bombs, no one else has used a nuclear explosive in combat. The possession of nuclear arms has become a goal of nearly every developing country. On August 6, 1945, the nuclear genie left its bottle. No amount of earnest wishes, prayers, and hard work have since contained it.

The American government banned photos of post-atomic Japan from publication. The only images I remember were done by American photographers years later photographing the terrible disfigurements of survivors. Eight years ago, a Massachusetts man was walking his dog and doing a bit of garbage picking. He spied a beat-up suitcase, and unlatched it. Inside he found about 700 b & w military photos of post-bombing destruction. has the man's story, as well as the story of the man who originally owned the photos, and many more photos of Little Boy's (the bomb's name) impact. Consider it a must-see.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on the Election

No matter how wonderful Obama's election has made me feel, nothing must compare to the feelings of our black neighbors. A major irritant for me during MSNBC's election night coverage was Keith Olbermann and his pale pals telling us how much this must mean to blacks while showing footage of them weeping and hugging at Ebenezer Baptist and Grant Park. How in God's name does Keith Olbermann know how it feels to be black in America? If you cannot possibly relate, take a lesson from Walter Cronkite and shut your pie hole. The images themselves spoke volumes, and needed no white interpretation. None of us whites know how it feels to be a second-class citizen day in and day out. Whites encounter prejudice, surely, but we are in no way defined by prejudice. Obama's victory must be nothing less than miraculous for blacks. Shambollocks wanted to make sure we included a black record of their important evening, and now we do.

Henry Louis Gates. Jr. is one of the great black intellectuals of our day. Currently, he is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. That's a whole lot of words basically telling you he's Harvard's black face. As editor of chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center (yes, the man collects titles like MJ), he wrote an article describing his feelings the day after Obama's election for the Oxford University Press blog.

So what does Barack Obama’s election portend for the future of race relations in America, and for African Americans in particular? I wish we could say that Barack Obama’s election will magically reduce the number of teenage pregnancies or the level of drug addiction in the black community. I wish we could say that what happened last night will suddenly make black children learn to read and write as if their lives depended on it, and that their high school completion rates will become the best in the country. I wish we could say that these things are about to happen, but I doubt that they will.

But there is one thing we can proclaim today, without question: that the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States of America means that “The Ultimate Color Line,” as the subtitle of Javits’ Esquire essay put it, has at long last been crossed. It has been crossed by our very first postmodern Race Man, a man who embraces his African cultural and genetic heritage so securely that he can transcend it, becoming the candidate of choice to tens of millions of Americans who do not look like him.

How does that make me feel? Like I’ve always imagined my father and his friends felt back in 1938, on the day that Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling. But ten thousand times better than that. All I can say is “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound.”

Sweet, indeed. I can only pray that Obama's victory gives much-deserved succor for a peoples whose enslavement provided the foundation for this great experiment, America. We wish the Obamas safety and good health, and Barack, in particular, the wisdom and courage to continue the healing which began on our historic evening.

The Last Call 11/12/08

The further we get from Elvis' death, the more controversial he becomes. Unlike his predecessor Frank Sinatra or his successors the Beatles, Elvis' 21st century coolness factor is nil. He receives very little hipster love. Yet there is little argument that his '50s singles changed the world. The man's work embodies the rock n' roll revolution of pop culture, which we know today as the predominant global culture. In many ways, anti-modern religious fanatics are not fighting American imperialism or preserving the dignity of heterosexual marriage. They are fighting Elvis Presley and the forces he unleashed.

If you are in doubt of this look at the 1955 pop charts. They are dominated by artists like Frank Sinatra, Mitch Miller, and the Maguire Sisters. The black artists represented are the Penguins and the Platters-smoothed-over doo-wop that is most definitely NOT blues-based. The outliers are Bill Haley and Fats Domino- true r & b and what would become know as rock n' roll. In 1964, the pop charts are alive with rock n' roll and r & b, with Harry Mancini's 'Pink Panther Theme' marking the only real connection to the sound of mid-'50s America. The vessel of this revolution, the figure who brought white America to the race music party? None other than Elvis Presley.

Right. Where's the love, than? The quality of the Elvis catalog pales in comparison to the Beatles, and even to many of his own peers like Johnny Cash. His '70s studio work is in large parts pure rubbish. The worst thing that happened to Elvis was living. Elvis also is completely Southern. You can't separate him from his upbringing. Many of his early hits were covers of black artist's material. He capitalized on the work of black musicans and songwriters, so many young listeners take his contribution lightly because he didn't invent his sound. Also, he was at the right moment at the right time. Why not idolize Buddy Holly, who wrote his own music and presented a distinctive sound? Or Chuck Berry, who made the guitar the premier instrument of rock music? Aren't they just as responsible for rock n' roll's success?

No. Elvis was a force of nature. First, look at him. Look at that picture. The young Elvis was what Marlon Brando wanted to be after years of method-acting training. He was pure, raw, unbridled sensuality. The man could have given you that look while selling vacuums, and you wouldn't have any rugs left. Sex always had a place in pop music, but after Elvis sex was the dominant theme of pop music. Second, there was the voice. If you disregard the increasingly vanilla material RCA gave him to record, Elvis had the premier white voice in pop music. He brought the Church into pop music with just as much success as Ray Charles and Sam Cooke. Track down the From Elvis in Memphis album if you have doubts about this. The man loved race music, he loved gospel, and he loved country. Addictions and general ignorance robbed him of an opportunity to leave a greater artistic impact. In the end, he was a product- a product mishandled by his long-time manager Col. Tom Parker. But what a product it was.

Our track today is 'Don't Be Cruel'. The track opens with maybe the most famous bass riff of all time by Bill Black backed by basic rhythm support on the downbeat by drummer D.J. Fontana. Elvis comes in with the lyric, penned by Otis Blackwell, followed precisely by his back-up singers, the Jordanaires. Although Steve Sholes is listed as the producer by RCA, the musicians stated that Elvis himself produced these sessions, which included 'Hound Dog' as well. Elvis makes this into a doo-wop song with a country shuffle. Elvis plays piano on this track, and he inserts a Fats Domino influence in the mix as well. Right from the beginning you have pop, country, and r & b. Elvis' genius was never in writing or creating unique sounds, but in synthesizing what he heard on the radio and in honky-tonks. At 21, he already possessed an amazing ear and knew exactly how to deliver the sound he wanted. Piano, snare on the downbeat, and cymbal on the upbeat guide the Jordanaires through the melody. The song proceeds toward the bridge, where we get a descending rhythmic bar escorting Elvis' vocal. At the bridge, Elvis throws in a vocal "Hmmmmm." It was common in jump blues and gospel songs to add non-verbal vocal fills, but rare on white records. Finally, let's listen to the tone of Elvis' vocal. His vocal is strong but breathy, very emotive. Whereas Frank Sinatra would work toward a cool, easy register for his vocals which would allow the lyrics to be followed, Elvis placed the importance on delivering emotion, soul. He rises and drops through registers many times during the song. This reflects his Church roots, where ministers performed operatic vocal feats to fill members with the 'Spirit'. Near the end we get a stop-start, so common in r & b of the day, and Bill Black comes back with a bass line to usher us out.

Next time anyone accuses Elvis of being a 'redneck' or 'tool', fix them with a long stare and ask them who the Beatles' biggest influence was. Sure, someone else could have been Elvis, but he was. And there was only one.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What The World Can Do For Us

Thomas Friedman, resident sage of the New York Times and Shambollocks favorite, wrote yesterday on what an Obama presidency should expect from the global community.

So to everyone overseas I say: thanks for your applause for our new president. I’m glad you all feel that America “is back.” If you want Obama to succeed, though, don’t just show us the love, show us the money. Show us the troops. Show us the diplomatic effort. Show us the economic partnership. Show us something more than a fresh smile. Because freedom is not free and your excuse for doing less than you could is leaving town in January.

Hmmm...I don't think the world is going to snap back into line behind an Obama administration. Further, I believe that Friedman's wish reflects the exact same type of arrogance which earned us international calumny. The mess we created in Iraq and Afghanistan will not be shared by the international community just by an Obama victory. No, I imagine it will take some diplomatic effort and Obama charm.

Instead of these high expectations, how about an Obama administration which begins its diplomatic dialogues with a dose of humility? Just as this momentous election reflects positively on all Americans, the last eight years reflect negatively-and the misdeeds of the last eight years need to be addressed. By all means, President Obama need not apologize for his predecessor, but he should acknowlege how we found ourselves here. After that, President Obama can demonstrate that he has learned from our mistakes and is willing to be more cooperative with our allies. Only after those conditions have been met should we expect to receive any international assistance in Iraq or Afghanistan.

We lack the superpower strength we held at the beginning of the Bush administration. China and Russia, in particular, realize that we do not have the same support amongst our allies, particularly in Europe. An honest effort to open dialogue with Iran would be a terrific first step. But until we show a willingness to eat a little crow, I don't know how we can expect ridiculous offers of monetary and military aid to clean up our own international messes.

The Back Up

It's approaching holiday spending time, and we at Shambollocks are always on the look out for what to buy that armed-to-the-teeth, friendly, neighborhood paranoid who has everything. I present to you the Back-Up, a metal mount for your shotgun that easily slides into place between your mattress and bed-spring. I know what you're thinking. "Gee Mike, that's great and all, but what about the M-16 I have in case it's not just a burgler but a personal visit by al-Queda?" Shambollocks recommends that you buy TWO Back-Ups, placing the automatic on the other side of the bed in easy reach of your wife or mistress.

It goes without saying that to get the full protection from these ingenius devices you must keep the safeties and your brain off. Shoot first, and apologize to your family later.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Sound of Young America

A few songs into the dance portion of my wedding reception, my Aunt Margaret, a proper woman of leisure, told me, "Play some Motown." We did immediately. The music Barry Gordy's little-record-company-that-could made in the '60s is already timeless. I remember hearing Motown music growing up from my sisters and brother, and it sounded like it came out the day before. Like their chart peers the Beatles, the Motown artists never age. The Temptations always sounds as fresh as they look in the picture above.

On a broader level, Motown paved the way for Barack Obama. The popular black artists who preceded Motown were not young. Motown brought young, black America into whites' car radios and The Ed Sullivan Show. They were the non-threatening vanguard of the civil rights movement. I truly love and admire the artistry of the Motown musicians. This year is the 50th anniversary of the label, and I'm sure you will see much publicity about that fact. Vanity Fair provides an oral history on the label that made it all happen.

Star Wars Set Photos

I always thought that the creature the stormtroopers rode in Tattooine was a digital effect for the '90s re-release. Either way, the Spanish website Taringa has a series of great on-set photographs from the original Star Wars film. Enjoy shots of George Lucas filming Han Solo and not raping him.

Craigslist Crook Caught

Sad news, today. It appears that Monroe, WA police have arrested the ingenious man who robbed a Bank of America via a Craigslist stunt and inner-tube getaway.

About three weeks before the robbery, a Monroe city employee was contacted by a homeless man who had found a pile of items behind a trash bin near the Bank of America.

The items included a black two-way radio, a yellow reflective safety vest, a black wig with a short ponytail, dark sunglasses, a large can of mace and a baseball cap, police said.

The homeless man watched as a man drove up to the trash bin in a silver car, gathered the items and left. He wrote down the license-plate number.

Willis said police believe the homeless man may have witnessed a failed attempt at a robbery or a practice run.

She said Monroe police tracked the license-plate number to Curcio and the FBI placed him under surveillance.

His DNA was collected without his knowledge when the FBI retrieved a container he'd been using as a chewing-tobacco spittoon. DNA from the container was matched by the State Patrol crime lab to that collected from the robber's discarded particle mask, police said.

Busted by a vigilant bum? What are the odds? Craigslist Crook, we will still hold you in high esteem at Shambollocks.

Our South Sider-In-Chief

Happy Third Day of the Barack Obama Epoch!

Today my happiness comes from the above picture. The day after the election, Barack left for meetings with his advisers with a Chicago White Sox cap perched on his head. I have left my home countless times in my life wearing that exact logo. The President of the United States is a South Sider. The President of the United States is a Chicago White Sox fan. A maligned and near-invisible half of a major metropolitan city will walk in pride for the next four years (OK, I'll say eight years...I'm pretty giddy).

If you are not a Chicago native, you don't understand what it is to be both a South Sider and White Sox fan. Over the last thirty years, the make-up of Chicago has changed dramatically. In 1978, Chicago was on its way to becoming yet another Rust Belt casualty- a memorial to its own past grandeur like its siblings in Cleveland, Gary, and Detroit. At that time, the Chicago White Sox overwhelmingly outdrew the Chicago Cubs. Wrigley Field lay in a neighborhood of flophouses, massage parlors, and vacant lots. The White Sox broadcaster was a fellow you may know-Harry Carey. Neither team won titles, but the Sox were the 'Hit Men' while the Cubs were just hitless.

Then a perfect storm happened. Jerry Reinsdorf bought the Sox and fired Harry Carey, who was immediately snapped up by the Cubs. With the power of superstation WGN behind him, Harry became a cultural icon, starring in Budweiser commercials and giving the Cubs a party image. At the same time, DePaul University and the Chicago Tribune (new owners of the Cubs) began to buy up the land around their property and pressure the city to clean up Lincoln Park and Lakeview. The seat of culture migrated further and further north. Most major rock acts played the Aragon, the Riv, the Vic-all on the North Side. The booming Chicago theater scene blossomed on the the North Side with Steppenwolf and Second City as its leading lights. Living on the North Side was cool. Soon thousands of young whites from all over the country moved to Lincoln Park and Lakeview because it gave them a mini-city that was clean, white, and out-of-sight.

The South Side had one major problem that prevented gentrification. Blacks. Any blacks who lived in Lincoln Park and Lakeview were quickly moved to heavily segregated neighborhoods on the South and West Side. All of these events led to a severe and mystifying fact of life for South Siders. Black or white, we were second-class citizens. I grew up with this sense of inferiority, and it drove me crazy. People labeled our side of town as 'dangerous', 'ignorant', 'racist', and 'backwater'. What drove us South Siders nuts was that most of the people who said this would turn into a puff of smoke if they ever crossed Madison Ave.

In 2005, the White Sox won the World Series. Hundreds of thousands emptied out years of angst on Western and Cottage Grove Avenues. We finally had something the North Side didn't. Of course, the next three years gave us more trouble. Each Cubs playoff failure only increased the celebrities who would come to butcher "Take Me Out To The Ballgame". The White Sox had Bernie Mac. I love Bernie Mac. But he's not Bill Murray.

Then Tuesday evening came. I know I speak for a million or more South Siders when I say my deep North Side resentment is over. You can have your wine bars, your life-long Cubs fans from Iowa, and your hipsters. I'll take this President of the United States and the knowledge his wife doesn't need directions to the Plaza. You can keep your executive and his North Side statehouse.

You get the politician you deserve.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bill Ayers: America's Most Dangerous Man

Hahahahahaha...oh, sorry, you caught me chuckling at the computer again. Throughout the entire election we heard from Hillary Clinton and John McCain surrogates that Barack Obama was some kind of dangerous radical because he once attended a dinner party also attended by Bill Ayers. Ayers and his wife were active members of the Weather Underground, a dunderheaded militant '60s organization whose bombs kept going off when beat cops and night watchmen were in shrapnel distance. Seriously, if the Weatherman Underground was a terrorist organization, than Hezbollah is the second world superpower.

I retained some mild curiousity about Ayers, especially since unlike Rev. Wright, he seemed to want to live his old life out of the spotlight. Two days ago while covering Obama's polling location, an elementary school, the New Yorker's editor David Remnick went with a colleague across the street to meet Bill Ayers and take the above picture.

THAT guy is dangerous?!! Remnick says he has both ears pierced and is wearing that RIDICULOUS T-shirt. On the day Obama is elected. Of all days. And he's an education professor wearing that shirt across from an inner-city ELEMENTARY school?!

AAAAHHHHH!!!!! Seriously, the shuttle is ready, baby-boomers. It has all the seasons of West Wing and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It has all the C,S, & N albums. Your last representative for the White House has been defeated. You can check out. Thanks for the '70's and twenty years of conservative bullshit. Now board the shuttle and you can enjoy the last few months of your life before you fly into the sun.

There. I just solved the Social Security crisis.

Next election, can we find a real dangerous dude, and not somebody who embarasses every sentient liberal on the planet with his attire?

Big, Bad, and Green

Just today, the head of General Motors stated that the next month will tell the tale of their future survival. What a shame. Like many, I believe that American automobiles were one of the great design products of the last century. I grew up madly in love with Detroit products through films like Bullitt. I joined many of my high school friends in drooling over muscle cars for sale in the local Auto Trader. I still dream of one day owning a Dodge Challenger or a Plymouth Barracuda.

Unfortunately, big and beautiful is mighty expensive right now. The high price of oil and ongoing ecological disaster have made my big car dream seem extraordinarily far-fetched.

But maybe not. This month's Fast Company has an article about Johnathan Goodwin, a Wichita mechanic who is making green look cool. Maybe we don't need to look at a future of super-charged Priuses. Goodwin is building an H3 (above) which can get 600 HP while also 60 miles a gallon. No, I did not lie. 60 MPG! I first heard of Goodwin on the Late Show, when Neil Young discussed his Lincoln Continental which Goodwin will modify to get 100 MPG.

What's the secret to his engineering feats? Not much. Detroit stock parts make up 90% of his machinery. Detroit engineers are in awe.

Two years ago, Goodwin got a rare chance to show off his tricks to some of the car industry's most prominent engineers. He tells me the story: He was driving a converted H2 to the SEMA show, the nation's biggest annual specialty automotive confab, and stopped en route at a Denver hotel. When he woke up in the morning, there were 20 people standing around his Hummer. Did I run over somebody? he wondered. As it turned out, they were engineers for GM, the Hummer's manufacturer. They noticed that Goodwin's H2 looked modified. "Does it have a diesel engine in it?"

"Yeah," he said.

"No way," they replied.

He opened the hood, "and they're just all in and out and around the valves and checking it out," he says. They asked to hear it run, sending a stab of fear through Goodwin. He'd filled it up with grease from a Chinese restaurant the day before and was worried that the cold morning might have solidified the fuel. But it started up on the first try and ran so quietly that at first they didn't believe it was really on. "When you start a diesel engine up on vegetable oil," Goodwin says, "you turn the key, and you hear nothing. Because of the lubricating power of the oil, it's just so smooth. Whisper quiet. And they're like, 'Is it running? Yeah, you can hear the fan going.'"

American ingenuity on display. I love it. Don't wring your hands quite yet. We might still be able to have our cake and look good eating it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Let's Go Change The World!

You must bear with me today. The last five days have flown by with the speed and vividness of a fever dream, and I am still attempting to catch my breath.

Friday morning I was in a Rome airport on layover from my honeymoon. After seventeen days abroad, I longed to be back in the States amongst my people, amongst the things I knew. That evening I was at a Chicago Italian restaurant with my wife and parents. My father brought my attention to the television, where I saw the man above. I recognized the man instantly. He is to my life as permanent a fixture of what home is as Lower Wacker Drive or a boiled Vienna dog on a sesame seed bun. The next morning I found out that man had died.

The man is Studs Terkel and he loved America-all of America- in ways few ever have. He had a show on WFMT in the evenings and through him I learned about Walt Whitman, jazz, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Great Depression, and why they call it the blues. Through his books I took a crash course in political science, reading the words of people from every area of our country, from every class, creed, and color.

More important, though, is what Studs stood for- an active American past where the greatest excitement came from civic action. His was an experience of speaking at Bughouse Square, shouting at union meetings, and toasting strangers in smoky clubs. His community was wider than a land between the great oceans. His community was all of us.

Studs lived through two world wars. He hustled through the Great Depression. He was spit on during civil rights marches. Through all of this, all of this, he never doubted once that we should end this American experiment. He knew you had to have skin in the game to make it all work. You can't let the next guy pick up the tab. You heard it in his voice every broadcast. "We shall overcome these differences," he would say.

Studs would be over the moon today.

Last night, Barack Obama became the 44th President of these United States, and the first black one. I watched the election returns at a near-by bar. The surrounding streets sung with electricity. At the bar, there were a group of West Indians watching the returns. There were a couple of guys from Bosnia. There were tables full of white kids. Every state that went blue was met with a thunder of applause. When the result came final, we hugged. We kissed. We cried. It was a shared national experience I had never known- the anti 9/11. You didn't want to go home.

And the world woke up changed.

What got us to last night was what Studs was all about. Corporations and agents of prejudice did not elect Obama, we did. The American people did. We as a country stood up and said, "Enough!" We did it through unions. We did it over the internet. We did it over coffee at diners and in breakrooms. After eight years of misrule and how many more years of shared apathy, we rediscovered our own power. We renewed the civic bonds that make this country a living thing.

Let us stay vigilant. A night that saw one maligned minority victorious, also saw the majority take away minority rights in California. America will always be an experiment. The minute any of us take any of this for granted is the minute our experiment fails. In Egypt, I walked amongst a people who lived under the boot heel of oppression. Thousands of armed guards walk their streets night and day. Their middle class live in a degree of filth you wouldn't see in our ghettoes. Their votes are suppressed, their voices imprisoned. America is a truly wonderful idea. We make it a reality when we stay involved. You can't own what you don't use. For eight long years, we have been used. Last night we took America back. Let us never give it away again.

Celebrate this. Don't forget how we feel. Later-think, pray, meditate. We have come a long way, baby.

And read. Yes, you can read quite a bit about this historic moment today. Newsweek begins a seven -part series on the campaign. Six years ago, the New Republic wrote about the inevitable new Democratic majority.

FoxNews, a prime vehicle of our past divisive habits, announces for Obama, and Juan Williams takes his token ball and and scores.

I leave you with this.

Thank you, Studs. Thank you, America.