Thursday, March 29, 2007

“Hello, my name is ‘Johnny,’ and how I can assist you today with the six-month outlook for durable goods?”

Wednesday's Wall Street Journal brought front-page news (subscription only) of a somewhat protected change-of-heart by Princeton economist Alan S. Blinder, a former Fed vice-chair and member of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, who only a few years ago declared, “Like 99 percent of economists since the days of Adam Smith, I am a free trader down to my toes.”

Nowadays Blinder is a little gone in the faith, primarily because of his own calculations suggesting that 40 million American jobs are in danger of being shipped abroad “in the next decade or two.” Oh, he’s still against anything that smacks of protectionism---he favors the United States playing more to its “comparative advantage,” a la 19th century British economist David Ricardo---but he’s warning that the changes wrought to society by mass outsourcing will be similar to those that resulted from the Industrial Revolution, which if we remember correctly were kind of a big deal.

The WSJ story on Blinder was accompanied by a box showing his estimates of potential U.S. losses of “highly offshorable” jobs. Among the numbers of endangered were 389,090 computer programmers, 296,700 data-entry workers, 178,530 graphic designers and 180,910 financial analysts.

And 12,470 economists.

They say there's an upside to everything.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Secret of the Heart, Revealed

The anonymous author of this declarative sentence speaks to us from the side of a dilapidated brick-and-wood frame structure in southwest Houston that houses, or housed, a dad-and-daughter furniture restoration business of some small local renown. We find our self intrigued by the message, with its fey construction, its unusual legibility and the writer’s obvious command of written English---not to mention its bold, blatant declaration of the unstated desire that underpins all advertising.

We could swear that’s a period after the “me,” but maybe it’s just a random glob.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I Ain’t No Ways Tired

… Even so, like the Houston Chronicle’s San Antonio-based columnist, Rick Casey, we feel the need to recharge our lagging batteries (solar-powered, natch) and thus will be taking a sabbatical for the next week (we’ll actually be on Spring Break, but “sabbatical” sounds like a much more serious endeavor befitting a man of our station).

Like Casey, we initially planned to “read, write and relflect" during our down time (and we were going to throw in some other ‘R’s for further alliteration: rootin’, rollickin’, rockin’, etc.) but on second thought we decided to hang homeside with our No. 1 manservant, Hidalgo “Huevos” Hidalgo, at the previously twice-foreclosed-upon, 4,000-square-foot townhome in Bellaire, Texas that he was able to purchase through the twin miracles of subprime lending and the half-dozen or so credit cards he has acquired through Bank of America and other major lending institutions (“¿Cómo se dice ‘Ditech’ en español?” he recently asked us).

Good fortune continues to shine on Sr. Hidalgo since he returned to our employ after a brief stint as a copy editor at the Chronicle: He tells us of the recent email notifying him that he is the sole winner of the Irish National Lottery, and sometime next week he expects to claim his share of a fortune left in a Lagos hotel vault by a deceased Nigerian colonel. This “expectation of future earnings” has provided HH with the necessary credit to purchase the largest-screen TV in existence---placement of which in his sprawling “rec room” necessitated the dismantling of two walls in his new townhome---not to mention the wherewithal to import 11 more relatives and near-relatives from his hometown. (He assures us there’s plenty more floor space after the current 17 occupants settle down for the night.)

We have big plans for Spring Break: Hidalgo promises to show us his extensive DVD collection of the exploits of a wrestler named Rey Mysterio, while we hope to return the favor by treating him to the entire cinematic oeuvre of Elvis, starting of course with Love Me Tender and winding up many hours later with Change of Habit.

"You say Mary Tyler Moore plays a nun? Dang!” exclaimed Hidalgo, a semi-lapsed Catholic.

Assuming we have no unfortunate brush with the law or get drunk and accidentally pick up Ann Coulter in a darkened pub, we plan to de-sabbaticalize our self on March 18 or thereabouts.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Overpaid, Underworked Chronicle Columnist, Citing That “Middle Aged, Achy Feeling,” to Take Five-Month Sabbatical

Writing that one column that could have been interpreted as being mildly critical of Mayor Bill White must have been too much in the way of exertion for the Houston Chronicle’s Rick Casey, who in his most recent Sunday offering abruptly announced that he’s taking off for the next five months to “relax, read and reflect.”

The columnist signed off in typical fashion, recounting a story leftover from his days as a columnist at the San Antonio Express-News that has less than absolutely nothing to do with Houston. But apparently it’s a special story---according to Casey, “one of the most salacious, compelling, fascinating and downright outrageous stories I’ve ever stumbled across.”

One small thing we’ve learned over the course of our half-century or so is that anytime a writer prefaces a story by telling you how compelling, fascinating and downright outrageous it is, you can usually assume it’s none of those things (you show, you don’t tell, as they teach in Good Writin’ 101). And that’s the case with Casey’s story, which has something to do with two San Antonio lawyers and … ah, who cares.

Casey reports that he’ll be filing dispatches (whether during or after his "sabbatical" is not clear) from the trial of these two San Antonio lawyers, a trial that we’d bet will be staged in San Antonio, and he humbly suggests that readers follow these dispatches not for the “prurient details” (right!) but for some reason that we frankly can’t understand, even though we read Casey’s explanatory paragraph three-and-a-half times.

Oh well. We wish Mr. Casey the best in his pursuit of readin’, relaxin’ and reflectin’ and will presume to speak for many subscribers to the daily newspaper when we say, “Don’t hurry back!”

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Love Troubles

… Our nearby Post Office, about 10 minutes before closing on Thursday afternoon, and our heart lifts momentarily because the long line of variegated R. Crumb-etched humanity that usually stretches out the door and into the lobby isn’t there, just a couple of people waiting for service, and we take our place behind a big-boned mamacita with two bebés in tow who’s jabbering en español AT TOP VOLUME into her cell, something about a "BAD SITUATION" that appears to involve a husband or boyfriend or perhaps both, we can’t understand most of it but SHE SURE IS LOUD and insistent about the subject, sounds as if she’s talking to a girlfriend or sister or maybe her moms …

Mamacita’s youngish and on the meaty side, not fat but headed that way in 5, 6 years, lots of brown cleavage spilling out the front of the clingy little shirt that rides way up on her belly, exposing more baby-fatish flesh ’round the hips and navel way, and we’re checking her out while privately bemoaning the loss of private space or some such bullshit but she’s TALIKING SO DAMN LOUD it’s impinging on our thought processes, jackhammering straight into our forebrain, and one of the bebés, tucked in a carrier under a blanket, is emitting this low-level keening while the other, a little girl of 2 or thereabouts, rolls around on the floor and pulls at the blanket, Mamacita oblivious to it all ….

When a guy strolls up behind us in line and he too is yakking into his cell, at much lower volume but with lots (lots) of uh-huhs and casual profanity …. fuck yeah and fuck this and that and fuckety-fuck fuck double-fuckeroo … so we crane around, cocking our chin and trying to do our best DeNiro ’cause at this moment our head’s about to pop off and we’d be pulling a Travis Bickle if we were similarly strapped … and we see he’s a tall, curley-haired guy of indeterminate racial-ethnic origin, maybe a dusky white guy or light black fellow or a Hispanic or maybe an Arabic type, but a fer-sure Rutting and Roistering, Instant Communicating Young American and he’s going on with the person on the other end: “Yeah, I know you … I know you … ”

Sounds as if he knows this person, maybe in the biblical sense we’re thinking, and sure enough: “Yeah, I know you---you like cock.” Wha ..? Did we hear what we thought we heard? Nah, he said, "You like Clark," didn't he? Or "You like Koch." But no: She likes cock! Or maybe he likes cock ... We turn around again, eye the guy, he gives us the Hard Eye back momentarily but turns the other way and cups the phone, now broadcasting to the back of the line but we can still hear: “What do I mean? I mean you like cock … You could have somebody up there right now. I mean somebody could be with you right now.” He’s not mad, more matter-of-fact about the prospect, enjoying the banter …

And suddenly, or so it seems to us, one of the dignified older African Americans who cheerfully (for the most part) man this godforsaken outpost of Civil Servicedom is calling out “Next customer!”, which would be Mamacita, who appears to snap out of it and grabs the carrier and hustles her brood to the counter, although still going on AT TOP VOLUME with her phone conversation, and then we’re summoned up and the dude behind us grows fainter: “Ah … Yeah … I’m just sayin’, I know you …”