Black People and Gay Marriage

May 7th, 2009

So I note that the Washington, D.C. city council voted 12 to 1 to recognize same-sex marriages (performed in other states).

One of the interesting angles on this development is to remember that Washington, D.C. is a majority black (55.6%) city. And during the whole Proposition 8 fracas, it was observed that black people generally have "conservative social values" and would vote against gay marriage.

Well, the seven black D.C. city council members just voted 6 to 1 to recognize gay marriage. So I think if we can't wholly put that particular generalization to rest, we can certainly look at it with a much more skeptical eye.

Ta-Nehisi Coates comes to a similar (but better written) conclusion.

Reviews: Havana Nocturne, Water for Elephants, American Made, Polaris, Seeker, A Talent for War

April 28th, 2009

We flew to San Antonio for my cousin's wedding this month; airline travel always leads to more reading.

Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and then Lost It to the Revolution by T. J. English - 6.5/10

An interesting read, well articulated, and it does a fine job of putting the reader into the period. Some good information about the Cuban revolution, which seems notable mostly for its recurrant bungling. But, ultimately, it turned out to be less a story about the Mob and more a story about wealthy casino investors who happened to be criminals, and thus lacked any sort of page-turning quality.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - 9/10

Whereas speaking of page-turning. An exciting tale of a Depression-era circus told first-person. Quite a gripping read, with fascinating characters and setting, no shortage of accidents and tragedy, and an ending that I personally found both brave (on the author's part) and enjoyable. Highly recommended.

American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work by Nick Taylor - 8/10

Very well-written history of the WPA, focusing on the characters involved from the top level through to individual anecdotes of the workers involved. Strikes just the perfect balance between exhaustive detail and fast-paced reading. If you have any interest in the period, American Made is well worth your time.

Seeker by Jack McDevitt - 7/10
Polaris by Jack McDevitt - 6/10
A Talent for War by Jack McDevitt - 6/10

The science-fiction universe is interesting, the characters are good (though not great), the motivating factors work and move the book forward. I particularly liked the overarching conception, that of the role of an antiquities hunter/dealer 10,000 years from now, who is searching for lost spaceships, stations, and other treasures from their distant past which is nonetheless our future.
That said, the stories proceed in a plodding, linear fashion, with no real sense of foreshadowing or any satisfaction when events come to pass. Stuff just happens, strung together mostly by time. Of the three books, I enjoyed Seeker the most, but all three of them lacked a certain spark of life.

Tasteless yet Funny

April 21st, 2009

There are some things that are really funny, and yet the entire time you are giggling you feel a vague sense of bad taste.

This is one of those things.

Foolish with Money

April 15th, 2009

It's tax day, which is the starting point for this anecdote.

I have an account with a particular stock broker dating back a decade. When I was young and naive and working at Cisco, I got cold-called by a broker and decided to send him some money.

To be fair, he's proven to be very accommodating and I've been a terrible, terrible client. He'd call with suggestions, I would reply in the affirmative and then do nothing, he'd call back a few weeks later when the stock had already risen and discover I hadn't actually acted on his advice. I've changed addresses many times and not informed them. I always called up with questions on tax day itself. Etc. etc.

The last few years I have barely thought about this account, which holds about $40,000 in various stocks. Every year at tax time I'd log onto the broker's website, use my super-secure double-plus-long password, find out that I'd been paid $100 in dividends, and put that on my tax forms. Wouldn't look at the account for the rest of the year.

Well, this year on April 14th I log on as usual, and there's no portfolio. Nothing. I mean, I knew the market had collapsed, but...

I call the broker (who I haven't spoken to in 3 years) and ask what's up. He tells me that in May of 2008, I had closed the account and transferred out the entire $48,000.

Which, of course, I hadn't.

So my blood went cold. Fortunately, he calls back twenty minutes later to correct his statement. Turns out that they had sent me a statement in May 2008 which then came back from the post office as "could not be delivered" - I mentioned I had a habit of moving without telling them - and they automatically closed the account and transferred the money to an "abandoned" holding account.

Now that they have re-established contact with me, they are putting all the cash back into my reactivated account.

(Or so they tell me, I'll report back in 48 hours with the facts of the matter.)

So, on account of some tens of dollars of dividend income and my own bad habits, I have to file for a tax extension.

Lessons:
1) Check on your assets regularly.
2) Don't keep all your money in one place. I realized that, had that account held the proceeds from selling our house, my panic would have probably given me a coronary rather than merely shaky hands. But we have money in several different places, with different brokers - so in the case of actual fraud, we'd at least not be wiped out.

April Showers

April 15th, 2009

Yesterday was clear and cold in San Francisco, with bright sun and a biting wind. It remained so as I rode BART home through Oakland and Lamorinda.

But as I debarked in Pleasant Hill, there were mounts of black clouds huddled against Mount Diablo and I was pelted with heavy rain and hail. Hail! The top of the BART train sounded like someone was dropping dice.

Ten minutes later it was clear again.