31 December 2008

She invented the word

Quote from Caroline at age 4: "Daddy, do you know what I call dirty snow?.... "Smagla."

The word has stuck in our family. Dirty snow is smagla. One of those winter things that we forget about for most of the year but spring to mind with the first snowfall, as in, "that's a big pile of smagla in that parking lot, don't step in the smagla, don't track smagla into the house"
Caroline never explained where she got the idea for the word. An explanation may be found if we ever learn more about her childhood encounters with elves. The dictionary of Primitive Elvish hints that smagla may be the ancient root of the elf word "magla" meaning "stained" or "stain". Hmmm, Stained/dirty dirty/stained, there has to be a connection.

If the word ever spreads and linguists want to know it's origin, it came from the mind of Caroline around 1996. This is a pic of her at age 9 in Alaska. She's in front of the toe of Exit Glacier and a large slug of smagla, just outside Seward, Alaska.
There is also a person named Smagla on Myspace, no connection. http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewProfile&friendID=82857194

28 December 2008

Christmass highlights

I never tire of Handel's Messiah and do not know anyone who does. The choir at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Columbia,SC sent chills down my back as they gave a performance on Christmas Eve that our family will remember for a long time. Twenty people sang as though they were 200.
My mother, at age 80, is one of the treasures of Christmas. Simply relentless in her effort to deliver the perfect Christmas experience to her sons, in-laws, grandchildren, and other guests in her home. Like the call to my cell phone at 115 am Christmas morning, she fell asleep waiting up for us... She was downstairs and I was in bed upstairs. Many of the very best memories of my life involve her and Christmas. Not only does she make the days extra special she provides an ongoing example of how despite aging one can still spend that waning energy serving others. Of course we still have petty arguments but they usually blow over as quickly as the arise.
I will remember this Christmass not for who was there but for who wasn't, Rob. Everyone has to endure that first one away from home and it's never easy. Mine was somewhat like his. New guy on the job in a position that demanded the post be manned over Christmas. We hated not having him, but were proud that he has found a promising position in a very tough job market. We missed him a lot and thought of him often during football games, scrabble games, the Christ Mass, the Christmas Day meal. We'll make it up.

Step aside Smithsonian

On a return to Minneapolis from a great Christmas vacation in SC. Never know what claims you'll find in a local paper.
From the Florence, SC Morning News, 27 Dec, 2008, quoting a Col. Rocky Gannon, in a reference to the defunct Florence Air and Missle Museum .....
"At one time, that museum symbolized Florence. It was the most visited attraction on the East Coast from New York to Miami".

16 December 2008

Christmas Time

There are so many things I think about this season that it is difficult to translate to the written word. How I celebrate it. My family traditions. The story as revealed to us in God's word. The sparkle of the seasons. The music. The manger. The contrast between Santa and St. Nicholas.
Gold and silver adorn the stores. Holiday trees are everywhere, though a real Christmas tree with the star of Bethlehem atop, is found only in churches and homes. Funny that this should bother me. There is no Christmas tree in the Bible. Paul and Silas never made popcorn garlands and Peter never had an argument with his wife over what day to take down the tree.
I think about the people who have been such a big part of my Christmas over the years. I think of them often but particularly at this time of year. My Aunts Joan and Joyce. Visits to them at Christmas are interwoven with so many good memories. My brother Rodney and the early morning treks downstairs at grandmother's house to look for our gifts under the tree, then heading back to bed with our stockings in our arms. Mother and Father and all the sacrifices they made to make this day so special for three boys. My own children and the magic of Christmas in each of their eyes. I have never seen a human express such pure joy as my daughter Rachel on the morning she opened a package with a long awaited doll inside. It was a glimpse of heaven, the type of expression reserved the best things in life. Or the end of this. When we enter heaven it must be with an expression just like that, unrestricted joy.
I think of the contrast between my big tough son, and his request as a child for "a little poodle" for Christmas.
I will remember Caroline as she struggled to read the Christmas story aloud when she was six or seven. How proud she was, and how we thought it would never end as she spurned any help and concentrated on pronouncing every word.

I will always remember my grandfather's reading of the Christmas story and the long ritual that surrounded the evening and the waiting to open family gifts on Christmas eve.
My first midnight Christ Mass, in one of the early years of this century. How this old tradition of the Anglican and Catholic church drew me closer to an understanding of the miracle of this day.
Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus. Worshipped by Catholics, ignored by Protestants. Somewhere in my religion there must be a place for her. The Holy mother of our Lord. The special vessel chosen by God to bear his son. We carry Him inside us spritually, but she carried the God who created her, inside her body. Her blood flowed through Him.

In the northern hemisphere Christmas comes when nature sleeps. We wonder if the early day of winter, December 25, is the true birthday of our Lord, or is it an old pagan holiday that the early church adopted? Wouldn't we be surprised to find that this really is the birth date? How wonderful that when all around us is dead, when all the leaves have fallen, when the small mammals are in hibernation, when the world is encased in ice, the manger of Bethlehem sends a message of life and love and warmth and rebirth.

The haunting strains of "What Child is This?". The world still asks that question every day, every sunrise, every sunset. Who is this Jesus, who is this God / this man that we cannot shake from our minds? Why are we so drawn to him yet something in us also pushes him back. We love the baby, we worship the Lamb of God, but we fear the wrath of the Lion of Judah. What does it tell us about ourselves that we spend weeks and weeks preparing for Christmas but spend only an hour or so in preparation for Easter. What does that say about me?
I will join my family on the eve of his birth. At his altar I will confess my sins. I will take his body and his blood. I will remember Mary and Joseph. I will thank my heavenly father for coming to this world just like me, a small helpless boy.

15 December 2008

The last gasp of fall in Minnesota

Tonight: Partly cloudy, low around -18.
Tuesday: Snow likely, 1-2 inches. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 6. Chance of snow is 60%.
Tuesday Night: Snow likely, mainly before midnight, low around -4. New snow less than one inch.
Wednesday: Mostly sunny, high near 10, low around 0.
Thursday: A 50 percent chance of snow. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 18, low around 6.
Friday: Partly sunny, with a high near 17.A slight chance of snow, with a low around 5.
Saturday: A chance of snow. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 10, low around -3.
Sunday: Mostly sunny and cold, with a high near 5, a low around -9.
Monday: Sunny and cold, with a high near 3.

Peggy Noonan on Hyman Roth

One of my favourite articles, that I have shared with many friends and colleagues, by Peggy Noonan. Posting here mainly so i'll always have it handy

Most of the important things you will ever say or hear in your life are composed of simple, good, sturdy words. "I love you." "It's over." "It's a boy." "We're going to win." "He's dead." These are the words of big events. Because they are big you speak with utter and unconscious concentration as you communicate them. You unconsciously edit out the extraneous, the unneeded. When soldiers take a bullet they don't say, "I have been shot," they say, "I'm hit." Good hard simple words with good hard clear meanings are good things to use when you speak. They are like pickets in a fence, slim and unimpressive on their own but sturdy and effective when strung together.

Stop here and go out and rent The Godfather, Part II. In the middle of that movie, you will find a speech that is one of the most famous of our time, and that a lot of people keep parts of in their heads. (If I were making a compendium of great speeches of the latter half of the twentieth century I would include it.)It is the speech spoken by the actor Lee Strasberg, who played the part of Hyman Roth, a character inspired by the old gangster Meyer Lansky. Here is Lee Strasberg's great speech, given as Hyman Roth stood, weak and furious, before cold-eyed Michael Corleone:

"There was this kid I grew up with. He was younger than me, sort of looked up to me, you know. We did our first work together, worked our way out of the street.Things were good, we made the most of it. In Prohibition we ran molasses into Canada, made a fortune -- your father too. As much as anyone I loved him and trusted him.Later on he had an idea: to build a city out of a desert stopover for GIs on the way to the coast. That kid's name was Moe Green. And the city he invented was Las Vegas. This was a great man, a man of vision and guts. And there isn't even a plaque or a signpost or a statue of him in that town. Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order. When I heard it, I wasn't angry. I knew Moe, I knew he was headstrong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead, I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we've chosen. I didn't ask who gave the order because it had nothing to do with business. You have two million in a bag in your room. I'm going in to take a nap. When I wake, if the money's on the table I'll know I have a partner. If it isn't I'll know I don't."

When Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola wrote those words they thought they were writing dialogue, a theatrical speech of a major character. But... they were writing a great speech. It is simple, unadorned, direct, declarative. There isn't anything in it that is "eloquent," and yet taken as a whole it is deeply eloquent: It tells you something big in an unforgettable way. There is in it no obvious, signaled rhythm, and yet if you read it aloud you will find in it the beautiful, unconscious rhythm of concentrated human speech. There are no phrases that seem to attempt to conjure up pictures, and yet when you hear it you imagine a Moe Green and see the dusty nothingness of early Las Vegas.It is simplicity that gives the speech its power. Each word means something and each seems to inevitably follow the word that precedes it and summon the word that follows. And so a kind of propulsion is created: It moves forward, and with good speed.One of the great things about this speech is that as you hear it you realize that for the first time you're hearing what Hyman Roth really thinks. The plain and unadorned quality of his words signals this. And we pick the signal up because we have gained a sense in our lives that true things are usually said straight and plain and direct. - Peggy Noonan

14 December 2008

Saving Bedford Falls

I watched "It's a wonderful life" last week. As much as I like the show I believe the character Mr. Potter is at least a little bit misunderstood.

Granted Potter is a bad guy. He's evil and selfish and seeks to use illegal means to destroy his enemies. But many of the points he makes about business and financial management are valid. He is, for example, correct in his criticism of George Bailey for having no personal savings or investments despite having a decent job and a family counting on him.
"What are you but a warped, frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help. No securities, no stocks, no bonds. Nothin' but a miserable little $500 equity in a life insurance policy. "
We are never told what George did with all of his salary but the implication of the movie is that he is a kind soul who could not say no to a friend in need. Admirable, at first but in reality George puts the needs of strangers and friends ahead of his family.
Potter is probably correct in his view that George is managing the building and loan improperly by lending to several people whose credit worthiness is questionable. The Bailey building and loan specialized in subprime loans, with a key difference from firms of the real estate boom was that this lender knew the customers quite well, such as the Martini family. George's main criteria for lending is that his customer be a friend and have a job, any job will do.
One thing Potter misses about Bailey is that George's effort are providing a meager stimulus to the Bedford Falls economy and strengthening the working class. By doing so George is making the town more attractive to industrialists such as Sam Wainright who moves a plant to the town at his urging.

Potter provides an overlooked benefit to the community via a means of escape for those caught in a run on the bank. Yes, and by agreeing to buy shares in the bank at half the previous market price. As the buyer in a panicked market, he is speculating that the mass is wrong and providing liquidity for their shares. The masses on the other hand are speculating that Potter is wrong and they will take advantage of his greed by dumping what they think is soon to be worthless stock in his lap. "Better half than nothing" one character says.
Absent Potter, there likely would have been no market for the shares at all. Once he established this floor price, George Bailey was able to convince others that there was value in the institution based on the actions of Potter. Even though acting on his own greed, Potter's offer combined with Bailey's appeal restored a modest level of confidence in the Building and Loan. In shattered markets it is often the speculator who steps in and begins to restore confidence by causing those panicking to slow down just a bit and rethink a rash exit from the market.
Note: it is possible Potter actually started the run on the bank. This would change him from a market speculator, a good guy, to a market manipulator, or bad guy.
Like the story "Wicked", a good tale could be told re-examining these characters, their history, and impact on Bedford Falls.

08 December 2008


Saw the play at the Orpheum Theatre and read the book. Liked the book which makes a very old point that things are not always what they seem, people are not always what they seem, but does so through the retelling of a child's tale.

Our tickets came to us via a corporate contribution to a charity event and were $500 each. The people sitting to our left got theirs on Craig's list.

The staging and costuming was interesting. I often find the creativity in professional set design extremely interesting even when I don't like a play. This one was a visual pleasure.

Not so the story as told by the playwright. The story now is about two girls, one popular, the other not. The popular one is pretty, the other is ugly. They fight over a boy. They make up. The ugly one with the good heart gets the boy. (She also doesn't know her long lost dad, but really does, but doesn't know she does). The pretty one with a pretty good heart becomes famous. The end.

04 December 2008


I was in dallas today. Stayed at some fancy hotel that was so memorable I have forgotten the name. I will remember it for the fact that the when guests walked the halls to their rooms the servants all stopped speaking to one another and stood to the side while the guest passed. Weird. Crescent Hotel, that's it. Rosewood Crescent. Won't be back, it gave me the creeps. However, the room service was amazing. On time and the food was great, especially the chicken soup.

Spoke at an industry event and attended a seminar.

01 December 2008

While Tigers prey, do they pray?

Regarding the season... Oh the pain of heightened expectations. Ten years ago we longed for a season as "disappointing" as the Tigers 9-3. The most dreadful of these is the loss to the gaggle of scallawags to the west. Equally frustrating was the fact that it was not until the last 30 seconds of the last game of the regular season that two members of the family took notice of the team and joined Tigers fandom. Each offered a weak sigh of disappointment on the final play, a field goal attempt in the closing seconds that could have tied the game.

On a completely unrelated matter that just came to mind, scripture suggests we rejoice in our tribulations and suffering. That's hard. Not when the problem is over with but when you are right in the middle of the mess and hurting. Not going through the motions but really rejoicing. Thank you God for everything about this mess I'm in because I know so many blessings will flow from it if I listen to you. Thank you for the pain, the discomfort, the uncertainty. To use a current day example thank you for falling markets and the loss of your dollars and the wonderful reminder of my need for you that flows from this. Thank you for all the things I don't understand. It once took five visits to the doctor on a potentially serious health matter to cause me to pray for healing. Wasn't I tough! On the fifth visit, I chose weakness.