Monday, December 27, 2010

Greed is Bad

Here's more from my friend Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein on the market for mortgage-backed securities and the questionable practices of bankers at Merril Lynch. As the market in mortgage-backed securities started to slow down, Merrily Lynch did something to keep it going. Bernstein & Eisinger write:

Bank executives came up with a fix that had short-term benefits and long-term consequences. They formed a new group within Merrill, which took on the bank's money-losing securities. But how to get the group to accept deals that were otherwise unprofitable? They paid them. The division creating the securities passed portions of their bonuses to the new group, according to two former Merrill executives with detailed knowledge of the arrangement.

That's just great. When I finished reading the article, I was so angry I wanted to throw my computer across the room. Of course that'd be a whole nose/face situation, so I didn't. If you're ready for a little banker rage, read the whole sordid and well sourced tale on Pro Publica.

If you missed Eisinger & Bernstein's story about Magnetar, and how one hedge fund helped propel the housing bubble read it here. I believe the SEC is now investigating.

Obesity Goes Political

This fall, Sarah Palin turned Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign into a red-state-blue-state-don't-nanny-state-me issue. It's ridiculous. In a column in the Washing Post, Fred Hiatt writes that the politicization of the problem of obesity was inevitable. He writes:

"...when you look a little deeper, it's not surprising that a crusade seemingly beyond questioning would become a political battle. Interests that might feel threatened by Let's Move include the fast-food industry, agribusiness, soft-drink manufacturers, real estate developers (because suburban sprawl is implicated), broadcasters and their advertisers (of sugary cereals and the like), and the oil-and-gas and automotive sectors (because people ought to walk more and drive less)."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sugar Cookies

'Tis the season to decorate cookies. This is one Christmas activity that's pretty much open to everyone and so we got ourselves a snowman cookie cutter, tuned into an excellent instructional video from the New York Times, and decorated some cookies! For icing transportation, I made a half batch of Martha Stewart Sugar Cookies from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook instead of gingerbread because my gingerbread cookies are always gross. These were actually very, very good--even without the icing. But, we know, sugar cookies are really and truly all about the icing.

Happy holidays everyone.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Jew in Christmas City

Yesterday I was at our local ice skating rink with my kids. It's in Central Park, and over the sound system there were Christmas songs playing. One after the other. Christmas this, Christmas that. While the Zamboni was going around the ice, I was clapping my hands to a particularly jazzy Christmas tune, wondering if the handsome Harry Connick was singing, when all of the sudden my daughter stamped her foot and shouted, "Doesn't ANYBODY celebrate Hannukah!?!"

My answer? "Not that many people, honey."

As a Jewish mom, I'm bad at explaining why we don't celebrate Christmas. Actually, since Helen told me we had to get some matzah when I told her it was the first night of Hannukah, as a Jewish mom I'm clearly bad at explaining all kinds of things. But that's not the point. The point is it's hard to manage all the Christmas stuff when you don't celebrate Christmas. I was halfway seduced by the pronouncement of the stepdad in Kathleen Schine's The Three Wiessmanns of Westport which runs along the lines of: "This is a holiday celebrating the birth of a man in whose name our people have been persecuted for centuries. Why let them have all the fun?"

But I know this isn't the answer for me. And Christmas doesn't look like all that much fun, anyway. This isn't just sour grapes talking. This is anxiety about wrapping paper, garbage and climate change fueled by plastic toys talking. (By the way, I'm sure there's a connection between climate change and plastic toys.)

For all this reasons and more, I was very glad to read Marjorie Ingall's column about the ambivalent position we Jewish mamas stake at Christmas. Turns out the mushy middle is a reasonable place to be, and when our kids grow up, God willing, they can be ambivalent, too.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Michelle Rhee: Who's on first?

Michelle Rhee, who told Oprah she's going to start a "movement" to reform education by forming an organization called "Student's First." She wants to raise a billion dollars to do it. A billion. Because it's the students who come first for Michelle. Right. Students. A billion dollars. Think of what students could do with a billion dollars! If you like, you might read more complete thoughts on the matter here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Rachel Zucker, Poet.

Rachel Zucker is an amazing poet. I don't read much poetry but Museum of Accidents, her most recent book of poetry, is extraordinary. I turn to it with some regularity and you should, too. She wrote the Modern Love column that's now posted on the Times web site. Her subject: The liberation of divorce and looking for it in a marriage. Here's a bit:

"In a perfect world, divorce offers mothers an opportunity to reclaim their independence and sense of self. And it offers fathers the opportunity to parent without someone looking over their shoulders and micromanaging them, without someone who is always doing domestic chores or child care “better” and a little faster. In this fantasy world, both men and women have the opportunity to feel like autonomous people who can and must take responsibility for their own lives and choices. Shouldn’t married people live like this as well?"