Vonnegut’s Introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box

From time to time I think about this piece, written as the introduction to Vonnegut’s short story collection of Bagombo Snuff Box. It is tight, clever and at the end some of the best advice on creative writing, character and plot creation I’ve ever stumbled across. (posted without permission so contact me to remove, if you must. And go buy the book and read it. It’s great – with a bit of an obsession with a high school marching band.)

Introduction
My longtime friend and critic Professor Peter Reed, of the English Department at the University of Minnesota, made it his business to find these stories from my distant past. Otherwise, they might never have seen the light of day again. I myself hadn’t saved one scrap of paper from that part of my life. I didn’t think I would amount to a hill of beans. All I wanted to do was support a family.
Peter’s quest was that of a scholar. I nevertheless asked him to go an extra mile for me, by providing an informal preface to what is in fact his rather than my collection.
God bless you, Dr. Reed, I think.

These stories, and twenty-three of similar quality in my previous hardcover collection, Welcome to the Monkey House, were written at the very end of a golden age of magazine fiction in this country. For about fifty years, until 1953, say, stories like these were a mild but popular form of entertainment in millions of homes, my own included.
This old man’s hope has to be that some of his earliest tales, for all their mildness and innocence and clumsiness, may, in these coarse times, still entertain.
They would not be reprinted now, if novels I had written around the same time had not, better late than never, received critical attention. My children were adults by then, and I was middle-aged. These stories, printed in magazines fat with fiction and advertising, magazines now in most cases defunct, were expected to be among the living about as long as individual lightning bugs.
That anything I have written is in print today is due to the efforts of one publisher, Seymour “Sam” Lawrence (1927–1994). When I was broke in 1965, and teaching at the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa all alone, completely out of print, having separated myself from my family on Cape Cod in order to support them, Sam bought rights to my books, for peanuts, from publishers, both hardcover and softcover, who had given up on me. Sam thrust my books back into the myopic public eye again.
CPR! Cardiopulmonary resuscitation of this author who was all but dead!
Thus encouraged, this Lazarus wrote Slaughterhouse-Five for Sam. That made my reputation. I am a Humanist, and so am not entitled to expect an afterlife for myself or anyone. But at Seymour Lawrence’s memorial service at New York City’s Harvard Club five years ago, I said this with all my heart: “Sam is up in Heaven now.”
I returned to Dresden, incidentally, the setting for Slaughterhouse-Five, on October 7th, 1998. I was taken down into the cellar where I and about a hundred other American POWs survived a firestorm that suffocated or incinerated 135,000 or so other human beings. It reduced the “Florence of the Elbe” to a jagged moonscape.
While I was down in that cellar again, this thought came to me: “Because I have lived so long, I am one of the few persons on Earth who saw an Atlantis before it disappeared forever beneath the waves.”
Short stories can have greatness, short as they have to be. Several knocked my socks off when I was still in high school. Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Ma-comber” and Saki’s “The Open Window” and O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” and Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” spring to mind. But there is no greatness in this or my other collection, nor was there meant to be.
My own stories may be interesting, nonetheless, as relics from a time, before there was television, when an author might support a family by writing stories that satisfied uncritical readers of magazines, and earning thereby enough free time in which to write serious novels. When I became a full-time freelance in 1950, I expected to be doing that for the rest of my life.
I was in such good company with a prospectus like that. Hemingway had written for Esquire, F. Scott Fitzgerald for The Saturday Evening Post, William Faulkner for Collier’s, John Steinbeck for The Woman’s Home Companion!
Say what you want about me, I never wrote for a magazine called The Woman’s Home Companion, but there was a time when I would have been most happy to. And I add this thought: Just because a woman is stuck alone at home, with her husband at work and her kids at school, that doesn’t mean she is an imbecile.
Publication of this book makes me want to talk about the peculiar and beneficial effect a short story can have on us, which makes it different from a novel or movie or play or TV show.
If I am to make my point, though, you must first imagine with me a scene in the home of my childhood and youth in Indianapolis, in the middle of the previous Great Depression. The previous Great Depression lasted from the stock market crash on October 24th, 1929, until the Japanese did us the favor, for the sheer hell of it, of bombing our comatose fleet of warships in Pearl Harbor, on December 7th, 1941. The little yellow bastards, as we used to call them, were bored to tears with the Great Depression. So were we.
Imagine that it is 1938 again. I am sixteen again. I come home again from yet another lousy day at Shortridge High School. Mother, who does not work outside the home, says there is a new Saturday Evening Post on the coffee table. It is raining outside, and I am unpopular. But I can’t turn on a magazine like a TV set. I have to pick it up, or it will go on lying there, dead as a doornail. An unassisted magazine has no get-up-and-go.
After I pick it up, I have to make all one hundred sixty pounds of male adolescent meat and bones comfortable in an easy chair. Then I have to leaf through the magazine with my fingertips, so my eyes can shop for a story with a stimulating title and illustration.
Illustrators during the golden age of American magazine fiction used to get as much money as the authors whose stories they illustrated. They were often as famous as, or even more famous than, the authors. Norman Rockwell was their Michelangelo.
While I shop for a story, my eyes also see ads for automobiles and cigarettes and hand lotions and so on. It is advertisers, not readers, who pay the true costs of such a voluptuous publication. And God bless them for doing that. But consider the incredible thing I myself have to do in turn. I turn my brains on!
That isn’t the half of it. With my brains all fired up, I do the nearly impossible thing that you are doing now, dear reader. I make sense of idiosyncratic arrangements, in horizontal lines, of nothing but twenty-six phonetic symbols, ten Arabic numerals, and perhaps eight punctuation marks, on a sheet of bleached and flattened wood pulp!
But get this: While I am reading, my pulse and breathing slow down. My high school troubles drop away. I am in a pleasant state somewhere between sleep and restfulness.
OK?
And then, after however long it takes to read a short story, ten minutes, say, I spring out of the chair. I put The Saturday Evening Post back on the coffee table for somebody else.
OK?
So then my architect dad comes home from work, or more likely from no work, since the little yellow bastards haven’t bombed Pearl Harbor yet. I tell him I have read a story he might enjoy. I tell him to sit in the easy chair whose cushion is still dented and warmed by my teenage butt.
Dad sits. I pick up the magazine and open it to the story. Dad is tired and blue. Dad starts to read. His pulse and breathing slow down. His troubles drop away, and so on.
Yes! And our little domestic playlet, true to life in the 1930s, dear reader, proves exactly what? It proves that a short story, because of its physiological and psychological effects on a human being, is more closely related to Buddhist styles of meditation than it is to any other form of narrative entertainment.
What you have in this volume, then, and in every other collection of short stories, is a bunch of Buddhist catnaps.
Reading a novel, War and Peace, for example, is no catnap. Because a novel is so long, reading one is like being married forever to somebody nobody else knows or cares about. Definitely not refreshing!
Oh sure, we had radios before we had TV. But radios can’t hold our attention, can’t take control of our emotions, except in times of war. Radios can’t make us sit still. Unlike print and plays and movies and boob tubes, radios don’t give us anything for our restless eyes to do.
Listen: After I came home from World War Two, a brevet corporal twenty-two years old, I didn’t want to be a fiction writer. I married my childhood sweetheart Jane Marie Cox, also from Indianapolis, up in Heaven now, and enrolled as a graduate student in the Anthropology Department of the University of Chicago. But I didn’t want to be an anthropologist, either. I only hoped to find out more about human beings. I was going to be a journalist!
To that end, I also took a job as a police reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau. The News Bureau was supported by all four Chicago dailies back then, as a sensor for breaking news, prowling the city night and day, and as a training ground. The only way to get a job on one of those papers, short of nepotism, was to go through the News Bureau’s hazing first.
But it became obvious that no newspaper positions were going to open up in Chicago or anywhere else for several years. Reporters had come home from the war to reclaim their jobs, and the women who had replaced them would not quit. The women were terrific. They should not have quit.
And then the Department of Anthropology rejected my M.A. thesis, which proved that similarities between the Cubist painters in Paris in 1907 and the leaders of Native American, or Injun, uprisings late in the nineteenth century could not be ignored. The Department said it was unprofessional.
Slowly but surely, Fate, which had spared my life in Dresden, now began to shape me into a fiction writer and a failure until I was a bleeding forty-seven years of age! But first I had to be a publicity hack for General Electric in Schenectady, New York.
While writing publicity releases at GE, I had a boss named George. George taped to the outside of his office door cartoons he felt had some bearing on the company or the kind of work we did. One cartoon was of two guys in the office of a buggy whip factory. A chart on the wall showed their business had dropped to zero. One guy was saying to the other, “It can’t be our product’s quality. We make the finest buggy whips in the world.” George posted that cartoon to celebrate how GE, with its wonderful new products, was making a lot of other companies feel as though they were trying to sell buggy whips.
A broken-down movie actor named Ronald Reagan was working for the company. He was on the road all the time, lecturing to chambers of commerce and power companies and so on about the evils of socialism. We never met, so I remain a socialist.
While my future two-term president was burbling out on the rubber-chicken circuit in 1950, I started writing short stories at nights and on weekends. Jane and I had two kids by then. I needed more money than GE would pay me. I also wanted, if possible, more self-respect.
There was a crazy seller’s market for short stories in 1950. There were four weekly magazines that published three or more of the things in every issue. Six monthlies did the same.
I got me an agent. If I sent him a story that didn’t quite work, wouldn’t quite satisfy a reader, he would tell me how to fix it. Agents and editors back then could tell a writer how to fine-tune a story as though they were pit mechanics and the story were a race car. With help like that, I sold one, and then two, and then three stories, and banked more money than a year’s salary at GE.
I quit GE and started my first novel, Player Piano. It is a lampoon on GE. I bit the hand that used to feed me. The book predicted what has indeed come to pass, a day when machines, because they are so dependable and efficient and tireless, and getting cheaper all the time, are taking the halfway decent jobs from human beings.
I moved our family of four to Cape Cod, first to Provincetown. I met Norman Mailer there. He was my age. He had been a college-educated infantry private like me, and he was already a world figure, because of his great war novel The Naked and the Dead. I admired him then, and do today. He is majestic. He is royalty. So was Jacqueline Onassis. So was Joe DiMaggio. So is Muhammad Ali. So is Arthur Miller.
We moved from Provincetown to Osterville, still on the Cape. But only three years after I left Schenectady, advertisers started withdrawing their money from magazines. The Buddhist catnaps coming out of my typewriter were becoming as obsolete as buggy whips.
One monthly that had bought several of my stories, Cosmopolitan, now survives as a harrowingly explicit sex manual.
That same year, 1953, Ray Bradbury published Fahrenheit 451. The title refers to the kindling point of paper. That is how hot you have to get a book or a magazine before it bursts into flame. The leading male character makes his living burning printed matter. Nobody reads anymore. Many ordinary, rinky-dink homes like Ray’s and mine have a room with floor-to-ceiling TV screens on all four walls, with one chair in the middle.
The actors and actresses on all four walls of TV are scripted to acknowledge whoever is sitting in the chair in the middle, even if nobody is sitting in the chair in the middle, as a friend or relative in the midst of things. The wife of the guy who burns up paper is unhappy. He can afford only three screens. His wife can’t stand not knowing what’s happening on the missing fourth screen, because the TV actors and actresses are the only people she loves, the only ones anywhere she gives a damn about.
Fahrenheit 451 was published before we and most of our neighbors in Osterville even owned TVs. Ray Bradbury himself may not have owned one. He still may not own one. To this day, Ray can’t drive a car and hates to ride in airplanes.
In any case, Ray was sure as heck prescient. Just as people with dysfunctional kidneys are getting perfect ones from hospitals nowadays, Americans with dysfunctional social lives, like the woman in Ray’s book, are getting perfect friends and relatives from their TV sets. And around the clock!
Ray missed the boat about how many screens would be required for a successful people-transplant. One lousy little Sony can do the job, night and day. All it takes besides that is actors and actresses, telling the news, selling stuff, in soap operas or whatever, who treat whoever is watching, even if nobody is watching, like family.
“Hell is other people,” said Jean-Paul Sartre. “Hell is other real people,” is what he should have said.
You can’t fight progress. The best you can do is ignore it, until it finally takes your livelihood and self-respect away. General Electric itself was made to feel like a buggy whip factory for a time, as Bell Labs and others cornered patents on transistors and their uses, while GE was still shunting electrons this way and that with vacuum tubes.
Too big to fail, though, as I was not, GE recovered sufficiently to lay off thousands and poison the Hudson River with PCBs.

By 1953, Jane and I had three kids. So I taught English in a boarding school there on the Cape. Then I wrote ads for an industrial agency in Boston. I wrote a couple of paperback originals, The Sirens of Titan and Mother Night. They were never reviewed. I got for each of them what I used to get for a short story.
I tried to sell some of the first Saab automobiles to come into this country. The doors opened into the wind. There was a roller-blind behind the front grille, which you could operate with a chain under the dashboard. That was to keep your engine warm in the wintertime. You had to mix oil with your gasoline every time you filled the tank of those early Saabs. If you ever forgot to do that, the engine would revert to the ore state. One engine I chipped away from a Saab chassis with a cold chisel and a sledge looked like a meteor!
If you left a Saab parked for more than a day, the oil settled like maple syrup to the bottom of the gas tank. When you started it up, the exhaust would black out a whole neighborhood. One time I blacked out Woods Hole that way. I was coughing like everybody else, I couldn’t imagine where all that smoke had come from.
Then I took to teaching creative writing, first at Iowa, then at Harvard, and then at City College in New York. Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, was teaching at City College also. He said to me that if it hadn’t been for the war, he would have been in the dry-cleaning business. I said to him that if it hadn’t been for the war, I would have been garden editor of The Indianapolis Star.

Now lend me your ears.

Here is Creative Writing 101:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

Ms. O’Connor may or may not have broken my seventh rule, “Write to please just one person.” There is no way for us to find out for sure, unless, of course, there is a Heaven after all, and she’s there, and the rest of us are going there, and we can ask her.
I’m almost sure she didn’t break rule seven. The late American psychiatrist Dr. Edmund Bergler, who claimed to have treated more professional writers than any other shrink, said in his book The Writer and Psychoanalysis that most writers in his experience wrote to please one person they knew well, even if they didn’t realize they were doing that. It wasn’t a trick of the fiction trade. It was simply a natural human thing to do, whether or not it could make a story better.
Dr. Bergler said it commonly required psychoanalysis before his patients could know for whom they had been writing. But as soon as I finished his book, and then thought for only a couple of minutes, I knew it was my sister Allie I had been writing for. She is the person the stories in this book were written for. Anything I knew Allie wouldn’t like I crossed out. Everything I knew she would get a kick out of I left in.
Allie is up in Heaven now, with my first wife Jane and Sam Lawrence and Flannery O’Connor and Dr. Bergler, but I still write to please her. Allie was funny in real life. That gives me permission to be funny, too. Allie and I were very close.
In my opinion, a story written for one person pleases a reader, dear reader, because it makes him or her a part of the action. It makes the reader feel, even though he or she doesn’t know it, as though he or she is eavesdropping on a fascinating conversation between two people at the next table, say, in a restaurant.
That’s my educated guess.
Here is another: A reader likes a story written for just one person because the reader can sense, again without knowing it, that the story has boundaries like a playing field. The story can’t go simply anywhere. This, I feel, invites readers to come off the sidelines, to get into the game with the author. Where is the story going next? Where should it go? No fair! Hopeless situation! Touchdown!
Remember my rule number eight? “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible”? That’s so they can play along. Where, outside the Groves of Academe, does anybody like a story where so much information is withheld or arcane that there is no way for readers to play along?
The boundaries to the playing fields of my short stories, and my novels, too, were once the boundaries of the soul of my only sister. She lives on that way.
Amen.
Kurt Vonnegut

Jerry dreamin”

Jerry Garcia has been in my dreams the last few nights. 
Kind of odd.
Sure, I enjoy his music but I don't generally think about him that much during the day. 
The first dream, it was a soundtrack.  Throughout the dream there were versions of Sugaree being played in the back ground. Lots of different versions. An acoustic version, a full on Grateful Dead vesion and even a big band version that I don't think was ever recorded, at least not the rendition playing through my head. 

The second appearance he was just hanging out – first in a picture on a wall, then in the back seat of a car we were riding in.

The third dream he became a major player, with speaking roles and everything. I recall he was constantly looking for something to eat and many of us were with him and he was giving directions on where to find certain foods. I do remember there were candy bars in the quest and I guess it goes without saying, there was also a constant amount of pot and pot smoke swirling around him. 
Significance? 
I am uncertain.  Musical queus spawnded the images?  I ain't on tthe dope that ain't it.  He died eventually of a heart attack, maybe that was the trigger. Who knows, but know this, he is an excellent dream time companion. Very funny and conversational.

Posted via email from majikwah’s posterous

Roy’s First Cardiac Incident – In Detail

As many folks who read my blog/Facebook/Twitter posts are aware, I had a heart attack on April 14, 2010. To be specific, I had an Acute Myocardial Infarction of the Left Arterial Descending Coronary Artery resulting in an Angioplasty and placement of two stents in the said artery. As a related sidebar, I was also diagnosed with diabetes, with a blood sugar level of 383 upon my hospital admission.

Needless to say, my life has taken many changes in the last few weeks as I come to grips with a mending ticker, drastic changes to my diet, thrice-weekly appointments with cardiac rehab, morning and evening medications of powerful meds that are quite literally keeping me alive.

The affair began on April 13. It was Tuesday and I had just returned to work after a week’s vacation. Monday evening around 2 a.m. I woke up with heartburn and a belly ache. I took some Prilosec and returned to bed, tossing and turning, but eventually, it subsided. I have always had heartburn, since I was a nervous wreck of a child and didn’t think anything of it, especially reviewing the beer/vodka/junk funk/spicy/fast food meals I ate during the previous day.

Monday at work, I noticed the heartburn returned. An unusually tough case of heartburn. Prilosec, Tums, and another remedy wasn’t working but I roughed it out. I had just gotten promoted at work and just returned from vacation, so I figured the stress of my new world was taking its toll on my tummy. At lunch, I bought some Mylanta, chugged it like it was a cold beer and the heartburn seemed to subside. I didn’t notice any arm pain, no dizziness, no tiredness. All-day at work I was up and down the stairs, even a few times taking them two at a time to celebrate my weight loss and the improving physical shape that I felt was in.

Tuesday evening, at home watching television with my sister, I again had no real symptoms and was feeling fine. I went to bed early, very tired, but I chalked that up to my first day back from vacation.

Then, at 4:24 am (I will remember the time because I was angry because I usually don’t get up until 5:30), anyway I digress. At 4:24 I was woken up with tremendous pain on the right-hand side and moving to my side and my right underarm. I got up – tried the Mylanta again, took a Tylenol, went to the bathroom but nothing was working. I went to the kitchen, swallowed a couple of baby aspirin (which probably saved my life), and then paced around a bit in a daze trying to figure out what to do. Then I punted and did what is always best – I went to Julie, asleep in her room. I woke her up and asked her to take me to the hospital as my chest pain was getting worse and I was certain I was having a heart attack.
I arrived at Aurora South emergency room at 5:20 and in very short order I was rushed to the ER and then to the Cath Lab and immediately underwent emergency heart surgery with catheterization, angioplasty, and the stint procedures quickly completed. From the entrance to the hospital to recovery in ICU, the entire event took 90 minutes.

I spent the next 12 hours immobile as the nursing staff worked to stop the bleeding in the femoral artery entrance site of the cath – eventually resulting in the placement of what is called a Fem Stop – a fancy plastic device that is not unlike a tourniquet with a tennis ball placing pressure on my wound to stop any bleeding. I am told this all routine – but let’s just say it was Roy’s first tourniquet. I served in the Army – I have been trained on emergency tourniquet placement and gushing wounds and the life expectancy of all that – and even though I was in the good hands of an amazingly competent staff of nurses and doctors, I was a bit keyed up at this aspect – the only painful part of this event short of the actual heart attack itself.

It is now a week later. I am home, recovering, and doing well. With medication and diet, diabetes blood sugars are coming down quickly. I have met with my doctors to set up a lifelong treatment plan and I am working out insurance, rehab, medication schedules, and all that stuff. Thankfully, I have my family – mom and my sister are on hand to assist in my life changes and to ensure I don’t overdo things this first week. I am taking walks each day and doing light chores around the house, resting each hour to ensure I don’t end up back in the ER.

I have an amazing support and love network that have reached out to me – sharing, praying, and supporting me during this week.
I want to take a moment and pay that forward with this: learn the signs of a heart attack and quickly take action. I was told several times last week at the hospital that I am lucky to be alive. That I got to the hospital at just the right time. Had I waited 15 more minutes, or simply ignored the pain and rolled back over and gone back to sleep, I would be dead today.

Maintain a long term relationship with your doctor. In 2008, while I was working on losing weight, my doctor tested me for diabetes. I had a blood test and what is called an A1C test and all results showed me as not diabetic but on the fence, called pre-diabetic and I took that news and ran with it. I neglected to follow up every three months with my doctor and that could have helped prevent or lessened the severity of my incident.
Watch your diet. I used to eat out lot. I mean a lot, like 10 to 12 times a week.

And be sure and accept the changes that an event like this requires. I am willing to give up booze, pie, pizza, cookies, junk food, nachos and the like because if I do that I get to keep my feet, I get to keep my vision and I get to live another 40 years.

In America 1 out of every 2.9 deaths are due to heart disease (as of 2006). Think about that for a second. Thirty percent of all deaths. That means you can die of AIDS, cancer, Alzheimers, can be killed by getting hit by a bus, by running through the desert chasing a bird when an anvil falls on you all of those specific kinds of deaths equal 66 percent. Heart attack and stroke account for 33 percent. Wow. And as bad as 33 percent sounds, in 1986, it was one in two deaths were due to heart disease.

Every second, 1,400 people are diagnosed with diabetes. Type II adult-onset diabetes is now the number one disease among children – raised on the American diet of fast food, enormous portions, and high fructose corn syrup enriched foods.

I have had a data dump of a tremendous amount of information in recent days. I am still processing much of it. But one conclusion remains – I much change many things in my life as the current way of doing business obviously isn’t working.

If you are obese, if you are sedentary, if you have a poor diet, if you have a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes in your family or symptoms yourself – get thee to a doctor, take steps to save your life.

Giving up ice cream, donuts, and beer versus losing your feet is a fair trade-off.

Edit: From Greg’s comments below. Greg is an EMT and spends his day in the ambulance with this kind of life-changing events. Follow his advice:

Glad to hear that you are doing well. and are making the needed changes to be around for a lot longer. I commend you for documenting this event. I do however have a word of advice for anyone in this situation.

DON’T DRIVE YOURSELF TO THE HOSPITAL! CALL 911 this is one of the few times in my line of work where I may be able to save precious muscle and perform some of the treatment prior to getting to the hospital. In addition, I will notify the hospital of what is coming so they can be ahead of the game and begin the correct treatment almost before you are transferred to their bed. And in the event that you may wait  just a little too long I have much better resources and equipment than Julie’s car does( I know Julie’s car is sweet but!). Again I am ecstatic that Roy is well but there is a reason an ambulance costs 200-250K and it is not the old throw ’em in the back and drive fast. Please do not risk rushing and crashing on the way and do not toy with your health.

Roy, I hope to see you soon and keep your eye on the prize don’t get discouraged and keep kicking ass!

Gadget Love

That personal essay thing

Oh, sweet sassy, molasses. I do love gadgets.
This week is the CTIA conference – a gathering of the cellular telecommunication and wireless providers.
My email box is filling with news tidbits of new services, devices and toys that will be coming out this year – from all over the industry.
It is always fun stuff – especially when you work in the industry, to get a sneak peak at what is coming.
And for a confessed gadget geek like me, it is especially fun.

I bought a new laptop computer this week (A 17” Toshiba Satellite, with 4gb of Ram and 250 GB of HD space – purchased online form ShopNBC.com, if you need to know.)
My old laptop was a used Dell that was probably 5 or 6 years old. It had some sort of know defect where the power input (where the plug plugs into the computer) overheats and eventually shuts down the system. I replaced the motherboard and attempted to replace the power plug input with some terribly executed soldering – point being it was time for a new laptop.
And a new laptop at that. This thing is shiny and new and fun and fast and powerful. Harman Karman speakers – it has better sound that my television! HDMI output means I can watch Netflix on my big flat screen television.
This is gadget heaven.
Working for a cell phone company, I have come to love the gadget world. I am exploring how to be come a product ambassador, so I can get the latest phone to demo – I will keep you posted in that endeavor.
And I am scouring the web at all time for tech news and gadget news. There are some great places out there to get your gadget fix:

Tech Crunch – (news, reviews)
Gizmodo (news, reviews)
ReadWriteWeb (news, reviews)
Lifehacker (a blog devoted to tips, hacks and tricks to make life easier.)
Amazon.com (yes, Amazon – they have the gadgets and you can buy them there.)
Think Geek (great toys for the cubicle farm.)

Now it isn’t all gadgets with me. I lust for fancy pens and inks and inserts and preferences of gel pens over ball points and fountain pens. I read Ebay and a few other sites looking at really, really expensive men’s watches – in a lusting manner that many may see as unhealthy.
I have very precise standards for all sorts of regular day things – finger nail clippers (they have to have a certain feel and “clippiness” or they are a no go.); coffee accessories (see here. I roast my own and am pretty picky about the first cup of the day (those standards change and the day wears on and I need more java.).
I am thankful I am not a big skier or fisherman – those outdoor types can really accumulate the gear and the gadgets. Have you looked recently at the Cabella’s catalog or the crazy gadgets in the Campmore catalog? They have a gadget or a hook or a piece of clothing for everything.
There are now websites, devices and services to assist me in lessening my addiction to the internet, gadgets, online shopping and related activities. How odd is that. Use technology to wean me off technology. There is probably a support group for me. Luddites Anonymous or whatever.
That may be my future – sitting cuddled with a candle and a book (referred to in the gadget speak as Print 1.0) and waiting to be hauled off to debtors prison because I spent all my dough on a new gadget that cleans me, medicates me and puts me to bed.

Nationalize AIG

That personal essay thing

Back in 1995 at a press conference Then Colorado Governor Roy Romer tried to explain derivatives trading and what his son was employed at doing.
“It sounds too complicated to me as a way to make a living,” the governor joked.
Well, Romer must have had ESP, because as we have all learned, the derivatives markets, the hedge funds that manage them and especially the complicated and toxic Credit Default Swaps and Credit Default Assurance markets have collapsed – and experts from all over the land are at a loss at how to explain how they collapsed, how they work are what actually happened.
I am a financial neophyte – that said, here in a nutshell is what I have been able to gather about this mess (this is written at the 30,000 foot level. I am certain there are details missing but the point is still made) :

Subprime mortgages were bundled together into one investment then split again into tiny chunks as lower risk investment vehicles. Then those investors. (usually banks) bought an assurance bond (insurance) from the investment banks. These bonds – another derivative, were call CDAs. And then to complicated it again, those CDAs were insured through another assurance bond called CDS – swap the value between many different merchants.

Then something bad happened. Folks making 50 or 60 grand a year were no longer able to make the Adjustable Rate Mortgage payments on their $450,000 homes. (For some unforeseen reason, it thought a good idea to loan a couple making $60,000 a year a mortgage loan for $450,000 despite bad credit. It was also thought a good idea to give that loan at 6 or 7 percent interest – what could have gone wrong.)

Soon, banks began calling in their CDAs to cover their bad investments. And the CDS market collapsed trying to save the CDA market. Soon banks were no longer able to collect on their unregulated insurance investments. Banks began failing in late 2007 and first quarter 2008. The bleeding was bad but not concentrated in any particular market so it wasn’t news or headlines.

Then Bear Stearns fell. A big investment bank that was up to its ears in these CDS and CDA products (it is credited as a leading founder of the securitization and asset-backed securities market, read: CDA/CDS derivatives) . Lehman Brothers fell next. And all sites were now on AIG. AIG is the king/big brother/master of this toxic CDS/CDA bond market. As explained in this week’s Time Magazine – AIG was running a tremendous unregulated hedge fund under the guise of their Financial Products division – an the US bail money has essentially kept them afloat as they give out the money from the government to cover their bad bets.

I am a small town boy. That is where my instincts and nuances (if any) come from. And my boyhood town’s economy is fueled by just two major industries. Coal and Cattle. Both are pretty simple — Dig/Produce Product > Sell at market to ensure a profit. My father worked for the post office – a more complicated business but I understand it a bit as well. The post office is a nationalized industry held in public trust and self financed and managed by a government appointed board.

Economists and politicians are all over the place on how to solved the crisis. My gut reaction is to let them fall. They created a monster with these unregulated securitization and asset-backed securities markets. Let the chips fall.

But because the breadth and depth of these derivative funds touches so many industries and so many companies, if AIG falls, the recession may very just get worse. GM and auto industries had lots of money in these funds. Sprint dabbled in this market. Intel and Microsoft dipped their toes in these investments. Small town banks, retirement funds – the list goes on and on as to who will be hit, who may very well fall if AIG falls and many economists believe this house of cards must be protected because the rest of the economy is so perilously poised we cannot afford NOT to prop it up.

Monday, Treasury Secretary Geithner proposed a very complex, very detailed plan to shore up AIGs bad debt by buying it from them and partnering with other investors, liquidating the debt to make a profit.

Again, if it is so complicated it can’t be explained, it is probably not the right solution.

The US is now an 80 percent stock holder in AIG. We should move in, take it over, nationalize it – file for bankruptcy, let a judge dismiss the bad CDA/CDS debt and then place AIG in a public trust and using a board of governors, oversee its use of federal funds and its efficient and prudent use of funds.