Saturday, December 20, 2008

Double Negatives

Remember learning in math that two negatives cancel each other out and become a positive? Today, I found a real-life application of that worthy principle!

So it's a Saturday and I'm running around like crazy trying to get everything all pulled together. My friend Jim has called and invited me to a chamber orchestra concert in a cathedral in Green Bay for the evening, and I have a birthday party for my friend Ella on the east side of Appleton right before that. Timing-wise it should be fine - ok, it's been snowing like ca-razy all day, but hey, that's the way she rolls in my lovely home state. Somewhere during the day I hit the "trunk unlock" button on my remote keyless entry thingy instead of my door unlock button (maybe something to do with the heavy mittens I'm too hurried to take off before using the remote??). Of course I don't figure it out till I'm actually in my car and the 'door ajar' light is on, but there's no way at that point I'm getting back out of my car to go shut my trunk - I figure I'll get to it the next time I'm out. So, I find a present for Ella, wrap it, and head over to the party. Have a great time, but finally figure out that I should have changed for the concert BEFORE coming to Ella's because now I barely have time to run home (west side of Appleton), change, and head back to Green Bay in the snowfall. I head out to the car, start it up, and realize there's too much snow on it to be able to just windshield-wiper it off. So I hop out, hit the door unlocker button, shut the door, and just as it closes realize that I had just hit the LOCKER button (I didn't know it would let you do that with the car running!!). So now I'm standing outside a running car, in the snow, on the wrong side of Appleton, trying the door desperately to make sure the handle isn't just joking with me, and wondering which of my friends who has a key to my place would be willing to come over here, get me, take me back to my apartment for the key, and bring us back to the running car.
Then it hits me! The trunk is open! And because I have this lovely Focus with the pass-through back seat, there's a chance I can push it forward from inside the trunk. You can guess the rest - there's no graceful way to reach yourself in around random trunk collect-y stuff, skis in the back seat, and into the car enough to reach the back door. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought, but I am happy to report that I was able to clear off my car, make it back to my place, change, NOT join the cars in the ditch on the way to Green Bay, and get to Jim's in time to hit the concert. And it was a lovely concert, at that. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Back Baby, Back in Time

A trip to any of the places mentioned below is categorically recommended; and if, after reading, you’re not quite convinced of the marvelousness, check out Becky’s blog – she and Ray did a similar trip with Tom earlier this year!

It wasn’t till Tom pointed it out yesterday that I realized we unintentionally made quite a sequential trip back in time during my stay. I had some half-formed thoughts of blogging each day, but we were busy enough that it would have felt more like work than vacation to stay up each night to write – so here it goes, all in one shot!

We started out mildly enough, with a college basketball game (NC State vs. Winthrop) Tuesday night, and an amazing Thanksgiving meal with Mary (Tom’s sister), Matt (her husband), and Baby Kalina on Wednesday. Mary made a complete Thanksgiving meal, and we did full justice to it. For some reason, Kalina was less than impressed by the loud-ish and enthusiastic folks invading her home – I don’t understand it – and found herself better amused up in her nursery and far away from the clamorous rabble. She is just a beautiful baby, and it was great to meet her and hold her a bit. As Matt and Mary pull off being parents AND great hosts and conversationalists the time flew by. They sent us off with a full lunch packed for the next day (hooray for turkey sandwiches!).

Thursday we started easing into the past. We took the four hour drive to Washington DC, figuring there would be few crowds on the holiday itself. The American History museum just opened a week or so ago after a huge renovation project, so we got to be among the first to check it out. We spent hours there, viewing “Old Glory” (the enormous flag that inspired “The Star Spangled Banner”), and numerous exhibits from the country’s recent past. We also walked around the capital quite a bit, walking to the Jefferson Memorial, and viewing others from afar: the Washington Monument, the new Pentagon memorial (who knew? – pretty cool), the new – to me – WWII Memorial (it had been a big hole in the ground the last time I had been there), and the Lincoln Memorial.

Friday we took another whack at the City, beginning with the American Indian Museum, taking in a tour of the Capitol, heading to the Post Office Tower, then browsing the Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Castle, the Arboretum and the National Portrait Gallery before calling it a day. Particularly with the Capitol tour and the portrait museum, we really started immersing ourselves in the early days of our country’s formation. A while ago I had started a biography of Abigail Adams (the wife of John Adams, second president of the U.S. She's amazing; she and John were remarkably close and their story gives a fascinating glimpse into colonial American life at the time of the Revolution), and picked it up again once I knew I was coming here. So, what with reading that in the evenings, and an audio book Founding Brothers, that Tom played in the car, it started feeling like it was the late 1700s with the birth of a country just barely underway.

Saturday wound the tape back still further: we headed to Williamsburg, VA. Now we were in the period just months before the declaration of independence and the beginning of the Revolution. (If you’re not a history fan, you may wish to skim to the end of the paragraph here!). At the time, Virginia felt so connected to England that it considered itself a fifth segment of that nation (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Virginia!). Virginians saw themselves as Englishmen, and were the wealthiest and most conservative of the colonists. Thus, the rest of the colonies – the rabble rousers in New England, and all the rest – waited to see what Virginia would do in finally progressing toward declaring independence. Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry were part of the dramatic arguments, government debates, and pamphlet-writing taking place in Williamsburg, Virginia’s capital. When the House of Burgesses voted unanimously to declare independence, the rest of the colonies quickly followed suit.

Tom and I wandered through Williamsburg, learning how shingles, bricks, wheels, and books were made, and seeing how carpenters, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, silversmiths, milliners, printers and others plied their trades at the time. We toured the magazine (where guns & ammo were stored), the Courthouse, the Governor’s Gardens, a colonial home and the capitol. We got to hear outstanding teaching on the laws in effect at the time of the Revolution (fascinating stuff: ask us sometime about English common law and the concept of issuing a “license” for something), and a 3-way discussion of the various political viewpoints of the time (Tory, neutral and Patriot).

On Sunday, we went back to the beginning of European settlement of the country: Jamestown. We planned only to spend a few hours there, and perhaps catch Yorktown before a leisurely return to Raleigh, and maybe even another evening with Mary & Matt. We did not reckon with what we found there. I had been to the Jamestown reconstruction site, which is great, but never to the actual original Jamestown settlement. It was amazing. We walked all around the original town and fort, viewing foundations and reading all about the homes built there and what we know about the inhabitants. The fort was originally built in its nasty, swampy location because it was so excellently defensible, from both the Indians and the Spanish. Until 1994, it was believed that the fort was by now completely under water. Since it’s been discovered, actually almost entirely on land, there has been a mountain of artifacts recovered from the site. We spent over an hour in the church there (the tower of which was built in the 1750s and is still standing), pestering the volunteer guides with questions about Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, John Rolfe, and the site in general. We found out that John Smith mapped out huge quantities of coastland so accurately that historians have transposed them over satellite images and found them close to the same. He mapped out Plymouth before the Pilgrims arrived, and very nearly was chosen to lead their expedition from England rather than Miles Standish. A ship that foundered in Bermuda and ended up in Jamestown may well have inspired Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The Powhatan may have allowed the settlers to live because they were a source of copper (which they could no longer get because of inter-tribal warfare), and they would serve as a buffer to the Spanish - whom the Powhaten feared as well.

After all this “outside” investigation, we were ready to check out the Archaearium: a museum where the artifacts from the site are restored and displayed. The place is amazing. There are over a million artifacts that have been recovered from the site, one or two thousand of which are on display. Museums are cool, in general, but think of one where all of the artifacts are coming from “just over there” – places visible from the building! The stories, displays, and information were amazing, and – what’s more – they have a long way to go! They’re on pause now, since it’s winter, but they have just discovered another well and a cellar that they’re about to excavate, and have no idea about what they may find there. Archeologists who work there can uncover something like 10 artifacts a day, and they have a display of “recent finds” at the museum. We stayed at the museum till it closed, then made it back to Raleigh well after 10:00, listening to more Founding Brothers.

Today began the re-emerging process. Back to work, packing up to return to Wisconsin, all that “real world” stuff. I’m still working my way through the Abigail Adams biography – so holding onto a few fragments of the weekend’s immersion as well as I can! Fascinating stories, fascinating people, fascinating country!

Click here for more pictures

Sunday, November 16, 2008

life is short, the updates might as well be too

  • vermicomposting update: much sadness - i think the worms are dead. i haven't seen them at all for a week or two, and things i would think they would like are untouched. my buddy jim says he thinks i didn't have enough worms in there - he would have thrown 5 tubs in, rather than 1. might be worth a shot since i'm pretty freaked out about digging around in there to try to figure out if anything else happened... kinda bummed that i killed 'em off somehow.
  • class update: i finished my last assignment! not like me at all - since i need to get everything done by thursday, this would normally not be happening till wed. late. i just got on a roll yesterday and got 'em all done. now to get the final project done! (should i go climbing tomorrow night with the crew??)
  • thanksgiving plans: zah hoo - i'm heading off to raleigh to hang with my buddy tom. we'll be hitting d.c. and williamsburg and hanging with his sis/bro-in-law and their brand-spankin'-new daughter. can't wait - it will be so fun to traipse about historical places with someone who likes 'em as much as i do!
  • hunting: this weekend! we'll see how it goes. i always miss my dad a lot around this time of year.
  • sports: javier and i got a ramble in, then watched the packers clobber the bears and then wisconsin beat long beach in basketball. i think it will be a fun wisconsin season to watch.
  • thinking about God: we had bible study tonight and had an interesting discusion about john the baptist. interesting to think about the life he was called to (being a hermit, baptizing people, getting beheaded), and that even in a life apparently fully devoted to God he didn't have it all figured out (sent disciples to check Jesus out, even though beforehand he had known all about Him). also been listening to C.S. Lewis's God in the Dock essays lately. tons of thought-provoking things. one is a boethius idea that God is always working miracles, we just don't see them most of the time because they're so drawn out. so Christ's miracles were a 'snapshot' of what God is always doing already: making more bread out of bread, water into wine - things God does with seasons and cultivation and rainfall. boethius uses that as an explanation of why He didn't make bread out of stones. huh!
  • lord peter wimsey: i'm all about dorothy sayers' murder mysteries lately. i inflicted a 4-part video, The Nine Tailors on jim and javier saturday night (poor blighters didn't know what they were in for when the responded to my innocent invitation). and for reading - i just finished one and am starting another; good stuff, good stuff. witty and clever and unexpected - and that's just the protagonist!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Loop North

So, this past weekend was all about my buddy Javier and I taking on the wild northwoods hinterlands. We had a great time - or at least I did. I can't quite imagine Javier getting enthusiastic enough about something to go quite that far! But he didn't call off the friendship or refuse to be seen in public with me after the weekend, so it can't have been too bad.

The weekend actually started for me on a great note: we had a baby shower for a coworker on Friday, and went to do pottery as part of the festivities. I made two survivable pots that will go to the mother-to-be. I left quite euphoric: it is so seldom I get to sit at a potter's wheel, and it was great to have such fun with my coworkers.

Friday night we headed up to my Uncle Dean & Aunt Dar's place, "The Farm". I wanted to scout deer hunting stands for Opening Day (starts in 2 weeks), and Javier was up for seeing the place. It was great fun - Dean showed us the gazebo he's been building on top of the silo - it's come a LONG way! So cool. It now has a roof and a stairway. Then Saturday morning Dar made us blueberry waffles (holy cow!!), and we took off to take a look around. Javier helped fix my stand a bit, so I think I'm all set, and we took a look at the stand I had used most recently when hunting with my dad. It's still there, but the branch has split, and I don't know how much longer it will "hang" around. Unfortunately, Dean started having chest pains, which scared us all quite a bit, so Dar took him off to the hospital and Javier and I headed off. [It turns out that Dean has a hiatal hernia, and the pain from the acid reflux triggers the same nerve that a heart attack does, so it's a good thing he got in and got it looked at - and it's a REALLY good thing that he's ok!!].

Javier's family has a cottage up in Iron River of all places - and it turns out it's only miles from Amy & Tim's place. So we headed there next, and I got to meet his brother, step-brother, and other various friends and family members. It was a pretty chill time (hooray) and Javier and I both ended up getting some work done. He - work work, me - homework. *sigh*.

Sunday morning we headed into Iron River & met up with Amy and Tim at church. Then it was back to their place for tacos (hooray)! Grant, Margo, Augusta and Sherman were all there so it was quite a reunion. Margo is talking now, and adorable as ever. After lunch, Tim lead Javier and I out to his place where he has a shooting range, so we could get the guns sighted in. We got two rifles set to go, and then played with the .22 pistol for a little while. Then Javier & I headed back south - finishing up the audiobook we'd started on the way up: They Do It with Mirrors. Good times.
[click here for a few more pics].

Monday, November 03, 2008

Youth Group Work Trip

On Halloween morning six adults and 28 or so kids headed off in a caravan of minivans for Minneapolis-St. Paul. It was great fun. Mike’s (the pastor) goal was for us to experience different expressions of Christianity, and to help out at The Source, a ministry in the inner city. So that’s what we did! We did not get off to a stellar start, though. We stopped at Fleet Farm in Stevens Point and 2 kids tried to steal something and (thankfully) got caught. After the filing of the police report and some intense discussion, it was decided that we would head on (and the kids’ folks would deal with them on our return). I was personally really glad the kids were still along, and I’m hoping God used the experiences from the rest of the weekend in their lives.
  • Hope Academy: a couple moved to a rough neighborhood quite a few years ago. They started feeling guilty that we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves” yet they were commuting their kids out of the neighborhood for a better education than their neighbors could afford. Because of that conviction, they started up a school which now has I’m guessing 300-500 K-9th graders. We joined them as they were having a fall carnival with their kids and needed folks to help man the duck ponds and musical chairs and other stuff. We had a great time, and thought the kids there were fun and very well behaved.
  • The Basilica of St. Mary: on our way to drop off our stuff at First Baptist, we stopped for 45 minutes or so at the Basilica to wander around and take some quiet moments before the trip really got going. There is some amazing architecture there that I could look at all day, and it was nice to have the time for reflection.
  • Christian Rock concert at Club 3 Degrees: yeah. I had fun playing pool with some kids down in the basement. :)
  • The Source: I just like this one. It's a group of people that has set up an art community in one of the more sketchy neighborhoods, and just does neat stuff. We did similar projects to last year - I got to help hang insulation and drywall (hooray!). The kids worked so hard and were just awesome to be with throughout the day.
  • Wooddale: A wealthier mega-church in the 'burbs. They graciously allow us to hang out in their youth room, shower, and eat pizza (yippee!). It's a beautiful facility, and a nice place to wind up. Unfortunately, we were at The Source too long to be able to make their Sat. evening service.
  • First Baptist Church: This is the cool old church where we crash both nights: they let us use their Sunday School rooms to sleep in. On Sat. night, Mike gathered us to read and discuss The Irresistible Revolution - good, thought provoking stuff. We then split into smaller groups to discuss it and pray for each other - the highlight of the weekend for me. Then the kids took on the challenge of a scavenger hunt - Mike hid bags of candy throughout the huge, crazy church, and the kids spent probably 2+ hours searching for it.
All in all, a great weekend - and it's especially good fun to meet more kids and hear about what's going on in their lives. Really does make me think about volunteering more regularly with the group....

Photo 1: playing cutthroat pool with Tanner & Sam - Sam's taunting me because he's so intimidated by my mad pool skillz
Photo 2: this one's for Amy. :)
Photo 3: the group after a hard day's work

More photos (with kids' comments!) here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Night Flight

Hooray for pilot friends! Javier is pretty passionate about keeping up his "skillz", so he offered to take me and Tammy for a night flight Saturday. He didn't have to ask twice! Unfortunately my poor little camera is not up for this kind of photography, so the pics from the plane were blurry despite my best efforts. I wish I could capture the beauty of the world better from up there. We flew out to Waupaca, then down to Sheboygan, then back. He let both of us "drive" for a while, and I did a 20-degree 360-degree turn! My heart was thumping like you would not believe, but it really was amazing to try. It's crazy. In a car/motorcycle, for most driving, you really only have one dimension at a time in which to operate. In a boat on open water, you have two. But having three is really crazy - and quite overwhelming. Respect for pilots: up 100 points!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stratfor Report: The United States, Europe and Bretton Woods II

By George Friedman and Peter Zeihan

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President George W. Bush met Oct. 18 to discuss the possibility of a global financial summit. The meeting ended with an American offer to host a global summit in December modeled on the 1944 Bretton Woods system that founded the modern economic system.

The Bretton Woods framework is one of the more misunderstood developments in human history. The conventional wisdom is that Bretton Woods crafted the modern international economic architecture, lashing the trading and currency systems to the gold standard to achieve global stability. To a certain degree, that is true. But the form that Bretton Woods took in the public mind is only a veneer. The real implications and meaning of Bretton Woods are a different story altogether.

Conventional Wisdom: The Depression and Bretton Woods

The origin of Bretton Woods lies in the Great Depression. As economic output dropped in the 1930s, governments worldwide adopted a swathe of protectionist, populist policies — import tariffs were particularly in vogue — that enervated international trade. In order to maintain employment, governments and firms alike encouraged ongoing production of goods even though mutual tariff walls prevented the sale of those goods abroad. As a result, prices for these goods dropped and deflation set in. Soon firms found that the prices they could reasonably charge for their goods had dropped below the costs of producing them.

The reduction in profitability led to layoffs, which reduced demand for products in general, further reducing prices. Firms went out of business en masse, workers in the millions lost their jobs, demand withered, and prices followed suit. An effort designed originally to protect jobs (the tariffs) resulted in a deep, self-reinforcing deflationary spiral, and the variety of measures adopted to combat it — the New Deal included — could not seem to right the system.

Economically, World War II was a godsend. The military effort generated demand for goods and labor. The goods part is pretty straightforward, but the labor issue is what really allowed the global economy to turn the corner. Obviously, the war effort required more workers to craft goods, whether bars of soap or aircraft carriers, but “workers” were also called upon to serve as soldiers. The war removed tens of millions of men from the labor force, shipping them off to — economically speaking — nonproductive endeavors. Sustained demand for goods combined with labor shortages raised prices, and as expectations for inflation rather than deflation set in, consumers became more willing to spend their money for fear it would be worth less in the future. The deflationary spiral was broken; supply and demand came back into balance.

Policymakers of the time realized that the prosecution of the war had suspended the depression, but few were confident that the war had actually ended the conditions that made the depression possible. So in July 1944, 730 representatives from 44 different countries converged on a small ski village in New Hampshire to cobble together a system that would prevent additional depressions and — were one to occur — come up with a means of ending it shy of depending upon a world war.

When all was said and done, the delegates agreed to a system of exchangeable currencies and broadly open rules of trade. The system would be based on the gold standard to prevent currency fluctuations, and a pair of institutions — what would become known as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank — would serve as guardians of the system’s financial and fiduciary particulars.

The conventional wisdom is that Bretton Woods worked for a time, but that since the entire system was linked to gold, the limited availability of gold put an upper limit on what the new system could handle. As postwar economic activity expanded — but the supply of gold did not — that problem became so mammoth that the United States abandoned the gold standard in 1971. Most point to that period as the end of the Bretton Woods system. In fact, we are still using Bretton Woods, and while nothing that has been discussed to this point is wrong exactly, it is only part of the story.

A Deeper Understanding: World War II and Bretton Woods

Think back to July 1944. The Normandy invasion was in its first month. The United Kingdom served as the staging ground, but with London exhausted, its military commitment to the operation was modest. While the tide of the war had clearly turned, there was much slogging ahead. It had become apparent that launching the invasion of Europe — much less sustaining it — was impossible without large-scale U.S. involvement. Similarly, the balance of forces on the Eastern Front radically favored the Soviets. While the particulars were, of course, open to debate, no one was so idealistic to think that after suffering at Nazi hands, the Soviets were simply going to withdraw from territory captured on their way to Berlin.

The shape of the Cold War was already beginning to unfold. Between the United States and the Soviet Union, the rest of the modern world — namely, Europe — was going to either experience Soviet occupation or become a U.S. protectorate.

At the core of that realization were twin challenges. For the Europeans, any hope they had of rebuilding was totally dependent upon U.S. willingness to remain engaged. Issues of Soviet attack aside, the war had decimated Europe, and the damage was only becoming worse with each inch of Nazi territory the Americans or Soviets conquered. The Continental states — and even the United Kingdom — were not simply economically spent and indebted but were, to be perfectly blunt, destitute. This was not World War I, where most of the fighting had occurred along a single series of trenches. This was blitzkrieg and saturation bombings, which left the Continent in ruins, and there was almost nothing left from which to rebuild. Simply avoiding mass starvation would be a challenge, and any rebuilding effort would be utterly dependent upon U.S. financing. The Europeans were willing to accept nearly whatever was on offer.

For the United States, the issue was one of seizing a historic opportunity. Historically, the United States thought of the United Kingdom and France — with their maritime traditions — as more of a threat to U.S. interests than the largely land-based Soviet Union and Germany. Even World War I did not fully dispel this concern. (Japan, for its part, was always viewed as a hostile power.) The United States entered World War II late and the war did not occur on U.S. soil. So — uniquely among all the world’s major powers of the day — U.S. infrastructure and industrial capacity would emerge from the war larger (far, far larger) than when it entered. With its traditional rivals either already greatly weakened or well on their way to being so, the United States had the opportunity to set itself up as the core of the new order.

In this, the United States faced the challenges of defending against the Soviet Union. The United States could not occupy Western Europe as it expected the Soviets to occupy Eastern Europe; it lacked the troops and was on the wrong side of the ocean. The United States had to have not just the participation of the Western Europeans in holding back the Soviet tide, it needed the Europeans to defer to American political and military demands — and to do so willingly. Considering the desperation and destitution of the Europeans, and the unprecedented and unparalleled U.S. economic strength, economic carrots were the obvious way to go.

Put another way, Bretton Woods was part of a broader American effort to extend the wartime alliance — sans the Soviets — beyond Germany’s surrender. After all wars, there is the hope that alliances that have defeated a common enemy will continue to function to administer and maintain the peace. This happened at the Congress of Vienna and Versailles as well. Bretton Woods was more than an attempt to shape the global economic system, it was an effort to grow a military alliance into a broader U.S.-led and -dominated bloc to counter the Soviets.

At Bretton Woods, the United States made itself the core of the new system, agreeing to become the trading partner of first and last resort. The United States would allow Europe near tariff-free access to its markets, and turn a blind eye to Europe’s own tariffs so long as they did not become too egregious — something that at least in part flew in the face of the Great Depression’s lessons. The sale of European goods in the United States would help Europe develop economically, and, in exchange, the United States would receive deference on political and military matters: NATO — the ultimate hedge against Soviet invasion — was born.

The “free world” alliance would not consist of a series of equal states. Instead, it would consist of the United States and everyone else. The “everyone else” included shattered European economies, their impoverished colonies, independent successor states and so on. The truth was that Bretton Woods was less a compact of equals than a framework for economic relations within an unequal alliance against the Soviet Union. The foundation of Bretton Woods was American economic power — and the American interest in strengthening the economies of the rest of the world to immunize them from communism and build the containment of the Soviet Union.

Almost immediately after the war, the United States began acting in ways that indicated that Bretton Woods was not — for itself at least — an economic program. When loans to fund Western Europe’s redevelopment failed to stimulate growth, those loans became grants, aka the Marshall Plan. Shortly thereafter, the United States — certainly to its economic loss — almost absentmindedly extended the benefits of Bretton Woods to any state involved on the American side of the Cold War, with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan signing up as its most enthusiastic participants.

And fast-forwarding to when the world went off of the gold standard and Bretton Woods supposedly died, gold was actually replaced by the U.S. dollar. Far from dying, the political/military understanding that underpinned Bretton Woods had only become more entrenched. Whereas before, the greatest limiter was on the availability of gold, now it became — and remains — the whim of the U.S. government’s monetary authorities.

Toward Bretton Woods II

For many of the states that will be attending what is already being dubbed Bretton Woods II, having this American centrality as such a key pillar of the system is the core of the problem.

The fundamental principle of Bretton Woods was national sovereignty within a framework of relationships, ultimately guaranteed not just by American political power but by American economic power. Bretton Woods was not so much a system as a reality. American economic power dwarfed the rest of the noncommunist world, and guaranteed the stability of the international financial system.

What the September financial crisis has shown is not that the basic financial system has changed, but what happens when the guarantor of the financial system itself undergoes a crisis. When the economic bubble in Japan — the world’s second-largest economy — burst in 1990-1991, it did not infect the rest of the world. Neither did the East Asian crisis in 1997, nor the ruble crisis of 1998. A crisis in France or the United Kingdom would similarly remain a local one. But a crisis in the U.S. economy becomes global. The fundamental reality of Bretton Woods remains unchanged: The U.S. economy remains the largest, and dysfunctions there affect the world. That is the reality of the international system, and that is ultimately what the French call for a new Bretton Woods is about.

There has been talk of a meeting at which the United States gives up its place as the world’s reserve currency and primacy of the economic system. That is not what this meeting will be about, and certainly not what the French are after. The use of the dollar as world reserve currency is not based on an aggrandizing fiat, but the reality that the dollar alone has a global presence and trust. The euro, after all, is only a decade old, and is not backed either by sovereign taxing powers or by a central bank with vast authority. The European Central Bank (ECB) certainly steadies the European financial system, but it is the sovereign countries that define economic policies. As we have seen in the recent crisis, the ECB actually lacks the authority to regulate Europe’s banks. Relying on a currency that is not in the hands of a sovereign taxing power, but dependent on the political will of (so far) 15 countries with very different interests, does not make for a reliable reserve currency.

The Europeans are not looking to challenge the reality of American power, they are looking to increase the degree to which the rest of the world can influence the dynamics of the American economy, with an eye toward limiting the ability of the Americans to accidentally destabilize the international financial system again. The French in particular look at the current crisis as the result of a failure in the U.S. regulatory system.

And the Europeans certainly have a point. If fault is to be pinned, it is on the United States for letting the problem grow and grow until it triggered a liquidity crisis. The Bretton Woods institutions — specifically the IMF, which is supposed to serve the role of financial lighthouse and crisis manager — proved irrelevant to the problems the world is currently passing through. Indeed, all multinational institutions failed or, more precisely, have little to do with the financial system that was operating in 2008. The 64-year-old Bretton Woods agreement simply didn’t have anything to do with the current reality.

Ultimately, the Europeans would like to see a shift in focus in the world of international economic interactions from strengthening the international trading system to controlling the international financial system. In practical terms, they want an oversight body that can guarantee that there won’t be a repeat of the current crisis. This would involve everything from regulations on accounting methods, to restrictions on what can and cannot be traded and by whom (offshore financial havens and hedge funds would definitely find their worlds circumscribed), to frameworks for global interventions. The net effect would be to create an international bureaucracy to oversee global financial markets.

Fundamentally, the Europeans are not simply hoping to modernize Bretton Woods, but instead to Europeanize the American financial markets. This is ultimately not a financial question, but a political one. The French are trying to flip Bretton Woods from a system where the United States is the buttress of the international system to a situation where the United States remains the buttress but is more constrained by the broader international system. The European view is that this will help everybody. The American position is not yet framed and won’t be until the new president is in office.

But it will be a very tough sell. For one, at its core the American problem is “simply” a liquidity freeze and one that is already thawing. Europe’s and East Asia’s recessions are bound to be deeper and longer lasting. So the United States is sure — no matter who takes over in January — to be less than keen about revamps of international processes in general. Far more important, any international system that oversees aspects of American finance would, by definition, not be under full American control, but under some sort of quasi-Brussels-like organization. And no American president is going to engage gleefully on that sort of topic.

Unless something else is on offer.

Bretton Woods was ultimately about the United States trading access to its economic might for political and military deference. The reality of American economic might remains. The question, then, is simple: What will the Europeans bring to the table with which to bargain?

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Sunday, October 19, 2008


Bad news. I recently learned that human trafficking is alive and well, and is currently the most lucrative of organized crime activities. I get pretty overwhelmed about the size of the world's problems sometimes, but when I learned that nearly half of the world's chocolate comes from Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, where an estimated minimum of 12,000 children are trafficked into slavery, AND that by refusing sugar in their tea in the 1800s, Britishers were able to raise the awareness that shifted the tide toward banning slavery, I thought, "there's something I can do something about" [more details here].

As much as I may joke about not being able to live without chocolate, when it really comes down to it, it's a luxury. I can live without chocolate if I think about children being forced into slavery for me to have it. So a few weeks ago, I decided to give up any chocolate that couldn't be validated to be slavery-free. From what I hear, fair trade and organic chocolate are ok. Yes, they're more expensive, but that just means eating less, right? The things I'm most bummed to lose so far are Reese's Peanut Butter cups (and - related to it, my favorite DQ thing: Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Blizzards made with twist ice cream!), DQ cakes, and pretty much hot fudge in general. Most other things I think I can make for myself with fair trade cocoa, chocolate chips, and so on.

I'm not really much of a radical, but I did try something that's stepping out pretty far, for me. If you're familiar with Facebook, you'll know that there are a gajillion-and-one groups out there that you can join to show your support for... well, whatever cause you want. I seldom join them, because I don't usually don't see a connection between me joining the group and it actually having an effect of helping the cause. So I decided to try a twist on the theme: I created a Facebook group where I ask folks - by joining - to agree not to eat chocolate that isn't slavery-free [click here to view it]. It's kind of cool - there are 33 members at the moment, which is a pretty big deal, if you ask me. I'm pondering other actions, so if you have further ideas, let me know or drag me along!


On Thursday, Ray & Becky brought over the frame and "catchy" bucket for the vermicomposter - hooray! I picked up some red worms from Gander Mountain, and shredded some paper, so when they got here to drop it off, we were close to being all set. Becky and I dumped 'em in, and we moved them into the coat closet. Guess we'll see how this goes! I've since dumped water, part of a cookie and an apple core in there - not a stellar start, but here goes, hey? Amy (or anybody!) - any advice on how to make sure they're alive without needing to touch them?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Grandpa Cliff, Grandma Lucille, and Things Apple-y

Last week my Step-dad Harley's folks were in Eau Claire, so I drove over for the day on Saturday to see them. We had great fun catching up (I had known them as a little kid, wayyy before Mom and Harley got married). Jody and Dan ended up coming over and we all went to the apple orchards. The "kids" took Dan's Jeep - my first acquaintance with it! Hooray for fall days that are sunny and almost too warm, and for families to enjoy them with! We wrapped the evening up with a lamp-lit dinner on the lawn. It was a flying trip for me, but we all had a sweet time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

a Katie contest

OK, let's have a Katie contest. How many Katies do you have in your life, and how proportional is it to your level of life fulfillment and happiness at any given time? I have a (step)sister Katie, a boss Katie (a most superior person), a good-friend-from-high school Katie, and two former Katie-roommates. All lovely people - do I win? :) OK, so maybe it is just a series of circumstances there to confuse the people I talk with (which Katie?), but it's kinda fun.

The first of the Katie-roommates is one of my bestest-ever friends - and she just got married last weekend! Hooray! [very cool photo slide show]. We had a great weekend - Jen, Mustafa, Tom and Serena were in from out of town, and there were all sorts of wedding activities going on (bachelorette party [complete with painting pottery, a tapas restaurant, and salsa lessons!], kickball with Katie & Joel's extended family [including Joel's grandparents!], rehearsal, getting all "duded up" and so on). It was a bit of a whirlwind, but overall great fun. Hooray!

Monday, September 29, 2008


So when I tell people I'm on the verge of giving vermicomposting a try, they get sort of a greenish tinge to their faces and start edging away (well, really, they shake their heads and wonder if I have it out for rats, mice, and other rodents that cross my path, but it's probably close to the same thing). Here's the full explanation.
Our story begins in our heroine's childhood: she has dark memories of nasty-smelling containers that she would have to take out to the compost pile... there would ALWAYS be a potato peeling or another evil something of some sort sticking vehemently to the container's side. Ewwww - it gives me shivers just reporting it!
But as a "grown-up" she was troubled. She thought the idea of composting was actually a good one, "Composting recycles or 'downcycles' organic household and yard waste and manures into an extremely useful humus-like, soil end-product called compost. Examples are fruits, vegetables and yard clippings. Ultimately this permits the return of needed organic matter and nutrients into the foodchain and reduces the amount of "green" waste going into landfills." (Wikipedia) but couldn't think of a way to make it practical in her garden- and yard-free apartment-dwelling life.
To make matters worse, a friend of hers told her that manufacturing companies are actually starting to work less on biodegradable stuff, and more on "compactable" stuff, because we seal off landfills - so the biodegradable things take up space and never (well, you know, not for a long time) get to actually do what they were designed to do: biodegrade.
Our heroine started thinking about all the biodegradable things that she throws away or sends down the garbage disposal, and she was not happy with herself. Not happy at all.
Enter the hero! No, it was not a knight in shining armor. It was a web site. This one, as a matter of fact. It's cool, right?! Can you see why it replaced the despair in the heart of our heroine with a faint but unmistakeable ray of hope?
So this past Saturday, her oh-so-rockin' friends Ray and Becky helped her make one. For real. Ray worked on the frame, our heroine worked on the bag, and Becky helped both! There's still a smidgen more work needed on the frame, and the much-anticipated purchase of the worms, but it's a start!
Pic 1: Trying to cut out the pattern on super-slidey nylon.
Pic 2: Trying to sew super-slidey nylon.
Pic 3: Doing cool things with wood.
Pic 4: Progress So Far (the frame's drying, but at least it's a hint at what it might look like when finished!)
Tune in next time for an update on how our heroine fares on this bold new adventure!

some few updates

Do you ever feel like it's hard to keep up with yourself? Not as straightforward as pure busy-ness, really, but because there's more stuff going on than time to reflect on it?! It sure happens to me! Here's what I've been up to:

The Weekend Before Labor Day Weekend
After getting back from Colorado, I was a bit overwhelmed with... everything, and it actually sounded the most restful to hop in the car and take the 5-hour drive to visit Amy and Tim. So I did! I had a wonderful, relaxing weekend - no pictures... I was in too chill a mood for that! - but they sent me back with the best-ever sweetcorn and feeling on much better terms with myself and the world. We mostly just hung out, but we DID get to Delta Diner for breakfast on Saturday - HOORAY! - and just had a nice time before Amy's school year starts up again.

Labor Day Weekend
For Labor Day Weekend, I drove to the Twin Cities and hung out with my friends Jen & Mustafa. We had a jolly time, checking out the Minnesota State Fair, watching movies, meeting up with Chris & Augusta, going to the beach, painting the deck, and (for Jen and me) getting pedicures! For some reason I spaced & didn't bring a camera, but here's a pic I love of them from when we were browsing through this crazy clothing store in Nebraska.

The Next Weekend
My friend Tracy got married - hooray! Jen & Mustafa were my "date" for that one, and we had a great time. Tracy looked marvelous, the wedding was beautiful, and the reception was great fun.

The Weekend After That
Chris and Augusta, who hadn't been camping for like 10 years, met me at Devil's Lake State Park. It rained! So the fact that we were still friends at the end is a pretty decent accomplishment, right? It sure helped that we ate awesomely and our tent didn't get wet (unlike our neighbors - who ended up sleeping in the car the second night!). We had fun exploring around the park and thinking about what we would do if it weren't raining. Oh, and buying wet wood from the state park that we were assured was dry... and then trying unsuccessfully for a couple hours to get it going! (It wasn't just us - the night before we'd had a great fire and s'mores and everything). Luckily, we had gummi bears to get us through. I think we got through 2 1/2 pounds between the three of us throughout the weekend - Chris even took them into the tent with us Sat. night, "just in case"!

The past two weekends
have been much less gasoline-intensive. I've spent time reacquainting myself with my apartment (rather a nice place, really), and hanging a bit more with Appleton friends. There are definitely some fun things to do around here: going on walks, indoor climbing, disc golf, checking out the car show at Oktoberfest, watching movies, rambling doing PowerPoint for church, and so on. Oh, and reading like a maniac! I also took on a couple of projects, which I think I'll post about separately!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

on misery and the Great Outdoors

I'm learning!
Maybe five or six years ago I agreed to sign up for a weekend canoe-camping trip down the Wisconsin River. I was really apprehensive. I mean, I'd gone to summer camp many times as a kid, and I'd slept in a tent on the lawn, but I'd never been out tent camping. And this wasn't easing into it at an escape-car-and-bathroom-close-by setup either. We'd be floating down the river and camping at a different site each night. I remember being particularly afraid about the etiquette of the thing. What if there were tons of unspoken rules and unconsciously held "everybody knows"-type rituals that I wouldn't find out about till I was on a sand bar in the middle of the river? What if I was ridiculed for not bringing a multi-bladed whatizmajiggy and everyone else relied on them implicitly for survival? My friend Linda took pity on me and made me a camping list that I still rely on, and all was well. And of course I had an amazingly-awesome time.
Since then I've had heaps more amazing camping - and eventually, kayaking and backpacking! - experiences. Because I didn't grow up with the stuff, though, I still feel green in many respects. I get excited about learning new things. My best one so far, I think, was one of those "profound once you hear it" kind of things that I gleaned from the BOW weekend this winter. It was getting down to 40 below at night and the weekend coordinator announced that we would not be having the planned bonfire. Reasonable right? But her reasoning surprised me: "the wind is strong enough tonight that if you were to dress in a way that would keep you comfortable at those temperatures, you'll be wearing something flammable, which won't be safe with sparks from the fire". Wait a minute - all this outdoor stuff isn't supposed to be about pushing misery to her very edge, growling fiercely, and carefully retreating back to civilization??!
As I think about it, though, she's right on. Camping really isn't supposed to be about being miserable. It's about (among other things, of course) finding ways to be comfortable in conditions that would be miserable without preparation. And while I might have been able to nod and smile at that thought after my first camping trip, it was about half-way through our crazy (well - crazy to flatlanders! Coloradans, don't laugh!) backpacking trip over Flattop in the Rocky Mountains a few weeks ago when I suddenly realized something. I was comfortable. I had finally packed and left behind the right stuff, had figured out the things in the past that really had made me miserable, and figured out ways to avoid them this time around. It wasn't perfect, but I think I'd reached a turning point. In that light then, I think I may post a few things that have made a difference for me so far, and others as I learn more.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


(it's been 2 years)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

thinkin' about me Pop

So, it's my dad's birthday today. I've been thinking about him some and missing him this week. It's funny, because how does my subconscious know it's his birthday? So weird - I feel a bit at a loss. If he were here I'd be spending time and money and phone calling or visiting one of these weekends or something. Since he's not, what do I do? Some coworkers suggested a charitable donation in his name... not a terrible idea, it's something after all.

Life is going full tilt - we had the Johnson Family Reunion Saturday [pictures here]. It was really an outstanding time. Amy and Tim came down and it was so fun to see them, and then just catching up with the cousins (who I only see once a year or so). I got to talk quite a while to my Dad's cousin Kevin and he had great memories of growing up with my dad. Hooray for the outstanding-est ever family! My only regret is not having a bit more time to spend with everyone.

Sunday - my darling Katie-friend had her bridal shower! Hooray! Her aunt, mom and sister helped me throw it, and we really had a sweet time. Good food, good conversation, great presents - what's not to like?!

And now tomorrow I leave for a week-long backpacking trip to Colorado! Really looking forward to it - and REALLY should get packing....

If we blog, I'm thinking here would be a good spot - either that or I'll post individually here.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Clues to a Vanished July

Not exactly sure what happened here, but unless I'm mistaken July has come and gone. I would suspect it of not having happened at all, but I believe that July made a few clumsy mistakes that left evidence of its presence, and for which it has yet to produce a good alibi.

Strongest evidence: weddings. If you are a month who wishes to come and go unobtrusively, do not allow weddings! People have interesting habits of adding rings to their fingers and sometimes changing their names - VERY hard to explain away!

I, for one, am onto the trick: my stepmom Amy is now a Richardson, and has a lovely new ring on her finger. And I remember distinctly going up there early, hanging with her mom, Beth, wandering through shops in Bayfield, picking hundreds of daisies on the roadsides with her and strawberries for shortcake with Gus and Chris, playing with her granddaughter Margo, helping Amy get ready, watching (and singing in!) the wedding, and catching up with lots people at the reception.
But that's not all: my friends Terry and Anna are now BOTH Shermans!
Very suspicious, and the odds of it happening completely at random are practically nil. In fact, I will state for the record that I could produce distinct evidence as follows: Patrick and Aaron will have dated plane tickets that will show the to have flown to Wisconsin during this time. We have pictures of an overnight camping trip that Aaron, Patrick, Tammy, Serena, Javier and I took to Point Beach State Park the night before the wedding, and then more photos of the wedding celebration itself.
And now that I have July on the run, for further corroboratory evidence, I will also state for the record that I have memories both June AND July ending with bouldering/climbing trips to Devil's Lake. Now, this may seem a tad suspicious to you (perhaps a little TOO coincidental?), but really - who could make up a story like that? If you were trying to cook up a plausible record, wouldn't you mix it up a little bit to add believability? No, "for real", Javier, Tammy, Serena and I met up in Devil's Lake the weekend after S coolly moved to Chicago, and had fun exploring the flood-ravaged area. We got rained out not too long after lunch, but had a great morning of boulder hopping, rail walking, and swimming on a no-longer-existent beach.

Not content to leave it at that, Tom (who was here for work for the week), Ray, Becky, Tammy and I met Tom's sister Nancy and her puppy Poky last weekend. This time around we found that bouldering with a Poky makes it an entirely different sort of adventure, and that the flooded area on the south end of the lake was now "wadeable". We also got to top rope in the afternoon, and all of us got a good chance to challenge ourselves on the rock face. Unfortunately for the purposes of this post, I do NOT have photos documenting that second trip - I believe Becky and Nancy were the photographers for that expedition - so I will rely on them to back me up on this one. Becky may also be able to produce photos of geocaching last Sunday which would certainly help the case.

While the rest of my memories of July are somewhat blurred, I really do think the above at least yields enough evidence to prevent the month from squirming its way out of the calendar's clutches altogether. If you have items to add that I've missed, please do so - we really can't let this one get away!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

propinquity and the cursed bean game

In the picture: (back) Rachel, Anna, Terry, me, Javier, (front) Katie, Joel, Serena, Tammy, Becky, Ray.
Sure enough, as predicted, Serena did move away. This is getting a tad ridiculous - I've had that game on my wish list for a while, but now I'm not so sure I want it anywhere near me!

One up side to friends moving away is the send-off party. We ended up at High Cliff State Park, throwing and losing boomerangs, smoking cigars, making s'mores, and tweaking Serena about ditching us.

On the seriously un-up side, it came up kind of quickly, and now she's GONE! She got a job with her company in Chicago, so we of course all wish her well. :-P To give her full credit, she has been pursuing multiple options outside of this area pretty much ever since I've known her, so I really am excited for her as this time it's really happened.

We will get to see "old" game night members in fits and starts over the next month or two - I just found out that Aaron and Patrick are going to make it for Terry's wedding the weekend of July 4 (hooray!), and then Serena, Javier, Tammy, Tom and I are flying out to Colorado for a backpacking trip/game night reunion in the Rockies! Zah hoo! We'll get see for ourselves if all the stories that Bill, Aaron, Patrick and Justin have been telling us are true (I have my doubts).

I read an article today that talked about "propinquity":
"that is, physical distance and frequency of interaction. It turns out proximity and interaction have a greater effect on likeability, collaboration, respect, and inclusion than virtually any other variable. When you examine social patterns or conduct surveys that surface friendship patterns, distance and the subsequent frequency of interaction account for a great deal (often almost all) of the variance. You like people you see all the time. People you don’t see, you don’t care for as much. In more common relationship terms, “Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder.” The more likely outcome is “Out of sight, out of mind.”" full, unrelated article here.
If you're well familiar with the concept, my apologies for canvassing it here; I just hadn't run across it before as a packaged concept. I'm not sure how I feel about this one. Propinquity IS absolutely a key component of relationships as they're forming , and I think has a real effect on how close you feel to someone. But there are definitely people that I feel closer to, even when I don't see them for a long time, than I do with people with whom I have much greater propinquity (co-workers that I have to "work hard to like" - continually! - for example).

If I have a point, I probably can't start threatening all my moved-away friends to move back immediately if they want to maintain the friendship, gosh-darn-it-any-how. I hate it when manipulation and coercion fail to deliver. Am I the only one who's new to the propinquity concept, though?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Meet me in St. Louis

I'm here! We had a fun day of travel, and I think the kids will be great fun. Small group; six of kids, two "grown-ups" (smirk). I did get busted this evening for being the one shooting the straw wrapper. Posts from the group will be at, so check that out for general updates. We wrote a short children's book in the car on the way here that was illustrated by one of the students - click here to check it out (and let me know if you have problems running it!)!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Heading to New City

Tomorrow morning is St. Louis!
A bunch o' high schoolers, Mike, and I will be trying to avoid flash floods and driving down in a van to work with New City Fellowship. Projects will include tutoring students in the morning, working in the afternoon, and helping with a VBS-type thingy in the evenings. We did this last year, had an amazing time, and came back with all sorts of stories. Mike will be posting updates of our trip, and if my laptop can pick up wireless down there, I'll post it here once I get it; if I get ambitious, I may try blogging myself - we'll see!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Isle Royale

Backpacking trips to remote islands in the middle of inland freshwater seas: categorically recommended. Here are some pics of our trip - I tried adding a captions enough to them so one would get a bit of the "story" of the trip from viewing them. I'm trying to do that with the full set of pics that were taken, but that's taking quite a while; there are heaps o' them! Here's a very cool map of the island, and I've mapped out the path we took here in yellow (click on it to see it a tad bigger):A few pointable points:
  • ongoing discussion about pronunciation. Tom tried to tell is us that it's actually pronounced "Isle Royal", not "Isle Roy-Al". I'd heard it pronounced both ways in the Fox Valley area (and they must be experts here), but the locals did seem to go more along the path of the first pronunciation. I tried to stand my feeble ground by saying that the locals actually seemed to say "Isle Roll" which would be the same shortened either way, but I think he had me on that one. But really, what's the blinkin' "e" doing there at the end of "Royal"?!
  • Prior to the trip, Javier had much to say about the class of human that wanders about creation in hiking boots, socks, and zip-off pants. 'Nuff said.
  • Moose. Apparently there are gobs of them charging about the island. But they are shy of folks, so this was the best glance we got of 'em (you could see it in outline, but only as it moved). If you can find it in this picture, I'd love to know where it is and will give you 7 points on the spot! It was noisy though, so pretty awesome to hear it come crashing through the woods. We saw tons of moose and wolf scat on the trails we walked, so it was cool to see evidence of the creatures about. (Uh, not quite cool enough for me to keep all of the pictures Tom took of the wolf scat in various stages of... returning to the soil).
  • the Naming of Things: So, first there was Bomber Hanks island - an island which Javier and Tom were the first to brave the cold water to circumnavigate (though others came after, they were just too late). Then there was Nettekoven Knob - which (from the evidence to the right) was not enjoyed by Nettekovens alone - and yet was so named. But in spite of me madly trying to claim spots for my very own, nothing stuck. Ray and Becky were more forbearing about the whole thing, and didn't try to inflict their names or personhoods (what's the plural of "personhood"??) on the beautiful spots we encountered. I have much to learn.
  • Reflections: We went at a fairly leisurely pace on this trip - between 6-8 miles per day. It was nice in that it meant we generally had time while walking and at the end of the day to lose ourselves in our own thoughts. And to stop at charming spots like the still pool below a beaver dam to paddle our feet in the water and gaze at our own "reflections"!
I could tell many other stories of ups and downs of the trip - the divot Tom took out of the roof of his mouth, the hardhearted locking-out in the freezing cold of one member of our party, a detailed saga of the wildflowers I saw but couldn't identify, the fights we had when Ray and Becky refused to help with doing the dishes, the sunset on Night 2 of the trip, our hurried trip to Scoville Point on the last day (very worth it!), or the miserable 3-hour return ferry trip - but I then what will we have to talk about when I see you next?!