Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Best Book That I Think Of When I Think Of The Words "The Best Book."

I read yesterday on "Editorial Ass" that if you're a writer, and you get a book published, and your book is a "literary novel" and people buy that book, that a really good number of books to sell is...


Seven thousand books. That's all. That naturally made me wonder three things, in this order:

1. What's a "literary novel?"

2. Why won't my computer let me go to Amazon.com? and

3. What the heck is wrong with America?

I'll take those questions slightly out of order.

First, my computer at work will not let me to go Amazon.com. I don't know why. It's not blocked by my boss or work; if my boss had any idea what I do at "work" all day, I doubt very much that I'd be allowed in the office anymore. Or, at the least, he'd block my fantasy football team site, "The Superficial," all of my blogs, and the "Girl Genius" comic strip, since collectively those sites eat up 98.9% of my day; he wouldn't worry about Amazon, which I only go to when I'm trying to look up things like "What's a literary novel," or trying to track down a DVD to see if it's true that someone took a short story of mine and actually turned it into a movie.

So to answer question number 2: I don't know. That takes us back to question 1, which I answered by googling "what's a literary novel," which led me to the blog run by Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent, which then distracted me because I saw that he's willing to accept queries and submissions, but then I realized that his site isn't going anywhere, so I'll link to him and then deluge him with submissions and queries after I write this post.

Nathan answered this question, in a post that I enjoyed because it included the phrase "the death of an albino" by saying

In commercial fiction the plot tends to happen above the surface and in literary fiction the plot tends to happen beneath the surface.

He explained that plot is first and foremost in commercial fiction and the development and internal reactions of the characters are first and foremost in literary fiction. So that answers that question -- I know now what literary fiction is.

Which leaves only the third question, which is again, What the heck is wrong with America? 7000 books constitutes a commercial success? That's ridiculous. That's awful. That's terrible. There are 305,000,000 people in America -- so if you sell 7000 books, you've sold a book to .002% of America.

So I went to see the best selling books of all time, and I ignored the religious or politically-required books at the top of the list, and found that the number one best selling book of all time that's not one of those religious or political books was, at number 6 overall, the first Harry Potter book, which worldwide has sold 107 million copies so far. While that sounds big, compare it to this. That book has been out for 11 years, so it's averaging 9 million books sold per year, give or take 727,272.

Compare that to one single episode of the horrid TV show "Yes, Dear," starring that insufferable AT&T girl. The August, 2003 episode of "Yes, Dear" was watched by 5,640,000 people. Nearly as many people watched the August, 2003 episode of Yes Dear as annually buy the most popular fiction book ever.

Which brings me back to What is wrong with America? Why do fewer people read a book than watch Yes, Dear? Why do people detest reading so much? Why do they view it as a chore instead of a fun activity?

Every night, Sweetie and I give the Babies! a bath and then get them into their jammies and then read them a story; it's usually one of the stories they like to read over and over, like So Big! starring Elmo, or What Are You So Grumpy About? but we always read them a story. They love it; they gather around and turn the pages and wait for us to read each page, and act out the part where Baby Elmo waves bye-bye.

They're two.

Somewhere between that, and my age, if the pattern holds out, they'll probably stop loving reading and start hating it and eventually will turn against books, the way even Middle turned against books; Middle used to read books but no longer reads much at all, even though she lives in a house full of books and people who read them, a house that includes me, an aspiring writer, who couldn't possibly love books more than I do.

I have a theory, as I usually do, about why people don't like reading, and that theory, as my theories usually do, is composed of several parts. That theory also, as I usually do, blames schools and society. Here's my theory, in its several parts, about why America hates reading:

1. Most books suck.
2. Books are hard to read.
3. People who could foster a love of reading deliberately stifle it.

Now, I'll take those in order, too.

1. Most books suck.
They do, don't they? I read a lot. An awful lot. And yet, I'm amazingly selective in what I read because there's so many awful awful books out there. Some of them are beloved by critics and writers and other snobs -- books like Mason & Dixon or The Name of The Rose-- but are still awful and stupid. Some are beloved only by people who buy their books at Walgreen's -- books like Chicken Soup for the Drugstore Book Shoppers' Soul-- but are still awful and stupid. Regardless of who loves them or hates them, the point is the same: Most books suck. For every great book I've read, I can think of 10 books that were okay, and a lot more than were purely awful.

Mind you, I'm not judging any one particular type of book; I'm not saying, for example, that all the Chicken Soup books are awful (although I think they are.) I'm saying most books, period, are awful. I can say that because most entertainment and art is not very good.

Seriously: Think about it. Count, r
ight now, the number of great songs you know -- songs that will live forever and are worthy, truly worthy, of being listened to by everyone. Now, compare that to the total number of songs out there. Whatever number of great songs you came up with, it's about 1/1 billionth of the total number of songs, period -- so the odds are that any given song you hear is not very good. Do the same thing with movies, TV shows, operas, paintings: Very few of them are truly great; a larger number are good. Many are passable, but a great great many examples of any art form are just... bad.

Which isn't that big of a deal for TV shows, paintings, and the like. If a TV show is bad, you invest a half-hour or hour and move on.
A painting, you walk right by. A movie that is bad is unlikely to be seen because it gets reviewed, but even then, it's only an hour or two and $8.50 or so out of your pocket.

But a bad book: That's Seinfeldian. That brings up point number two, which is Books are hard to read. Jerry Seinfeld said once that he doesn't make movies because if you see a bad movie, it's 2 hours, but being in a bad movie is months of your life. That applies to books: a bad book sets you back $6 for a paperback, $12 for a high-end paperback, and $20 or $30 for a hardcover. Plus, it sets you back time. Reading isn't quick. I don't know anyone but Sweetie who can read a whole book in a day; a book (for the most part) takes more than an hour or two. (Children's books for little kids like the Babies! generally don't take that long, but with little kids, your time is compressed -- you don't get a half-hour, you get about 3 second to catch and keep their attention.)

So a bad book absorbs hours and hours and days and days and weeks and weeks of your life... and if it's bad, you don't get those back. You invest all that time and either quit (like I did with Mason & Dixon, twice) or you're disappointed at the end (as I've been with other books.)

Who wants to invest that kind of time and not have it pay off? Most people, I suspect, simply opt not to read as much because they're not sure that the book will be worth it -- and the odds are against the book being good.

That's why people will read on the Internet, and magazines, but won't read books; a magazine is full of short articles, as is the Internet (except TBOE!) that don't require the investment of time or money; read a disappointing magazine article, you're out a couple of bucks and 10 minutes.

The combination of being hard to read and mostly bad is deadly enough to any art form -- but then you hav
e society forcing crappy books on people and deliberately destroying reading for them. That's all I can conclude from what I see about how society makes people read, and what it makes them read.

And by society, I mean "school," and "some parents."

School is, I venture, where 99% of reading is done for most people. School, from kindergarten on, is the primary source of people's exposure to books-- school occupies hours every day, hours away from parents like me who read, and then occupies more hours doing homework assigned by school. So school is society's represe
ntative for getting people to love, or hate, reading.

And school is making people hate reading because it is deliberately promoting books that are just god-awful boring horrible terrible books that make me want to doze off just thinking of them. Middle, who used to read, was assigned books to read over the summer, and some of those books to read included "1984" and "Animal Farm" by George Orwell.

Whatever the merits of "1984" and "Animal Farm," they are not terribly entertaining books to read. They are difficult to read and are boring. I know this, because I myself was assigned to read them when I was in school -- and I never read them. I faked my way through it, the way I faked my way through a lot of the assigned reading, because a lot of the assigned reading stunk. Like "1984," and "Animal Farm," and "The Canterbury Tales" and others, which I can't remember because I never read them.

Middle, to her credit, did read "1984" and "Animal Farm" over the summer -- but I haven't seen her read a book since. Or even pick one up. I think those books turned her off books for good -- something that would be easy to do because I've seen other books she's been assigned over her 12 years of school and most of them were terrible. Many were PC-ish books that were designed to make a point, some were "true" books that couldn't have been more boring, and none-- exactly none -- of the books Middle has been assigned appeared interesting.

Here, by contrast, are some books that I was assigned to read in school which were good and I loved: Childhood's End, by Clarke. Slaughterhouse 5, by Vonnegut. Catch-22, by Heller. The Sun Also Rises, by Hemingway. The Great Gatsby, by Fitzgerald. Great Expectations, by Dickens.

Each of those books was required reading at some point in my schooling, and each of them was great; so it's not like I'm some kind of bohemian, insisting that people spend their time reading The Integral Trees by Niven, although they probably should, because that was a great book, too. I like literary books and classics -- if they're good. And something being a "classic" doesn't make it good. Schools, though, miss the point and they teach "classics" that are terrible instead of books that are good -- so in the guise of "teaching" something, they are really making kids learn one lesson: reading sucks.

Parents add to that by discouraging reading, too-- they discourage reading by not reading themselves (probably because school taught them to hate books, too) and they discourage reading by disparaging things kids read. I'm a case in point for that: My main reading, as a kid, was Mad Magazine, comic books, and science fiction and fantasy. I read lots, as a kid -- 5, 6, 7 books a week on top of Mad and comics -- but most of it was stuff that parents think is drivel and not worth reading. My parents were critical of that reading, critical of reading comics and critical of sci-fi and fantasy and worried that I'd never amount to anything because one of my favorite books was Han Solo's Revenge.

My parents were wrong. Not about the "never amount to anything." They were 100% right about that. They were wrong about whether reading those things was bad. They were wrong because reading anything, no matter how awful or trivial it might seem, is not bad.

That is, if a person is reading... reading anything: Cosmopolitan, the back of a cereal box, "Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew," 1984, whatever... it's a good thing. It's a good thing because reading anything encourages reading everything. Once a person develops a love of reading, that person will keep on reading. That person may just keep on reading Cosmo or the cereal box, but they're still reading.

And that's a good thing, because reading exercises the mind and the imagination in a way that no other entertainment form does; reading makes the mind work because the mind has to take the words and turn them into pictures and characters and actions and whole worlds. Think of a book you've read. I'll take Missy, the most recent book I finished reading, by Chris Hannan. Got your book? Okay, now think about the world that book took place in, and picture the characters, towns, and environments of that book. In Missy, the book took place in Nevada and the west.

Now, think of how much of that world you can actually picture -- and then try to remember how much of it was described by the author. I bet the author didn't give you every single image and detail in your mind, and yet I bet that you can picture the entire world in that book you loved, in vibrant detail. You can do that because your mind took the story and images the author presented you with, and filled them in, coloring them and fleshing them out like an art director/stage manager/producer/costumer might -- all on your own.

Which makes that book come alive in a way that movies and TV shows and songs and paintings can't -- because it comes alive in its own unique way for each of us. That's one reason why reading anything is good: It makes your mind better.

And reading anything often, as I said, leads to reading everything-- people who love to read will expand their mind and expand their horizons and will begin reading more and more and more, often moving into new territories. From my humble beginnings with
Legion of Super-Heroes comics, I've moved on to read nonfiction like Longitude, and classic works of fiction like Les Miserables (overrated), and "literary fiction" like The Almost Moon and genre fiction and poetry and more. I've gone back and read classics, I've sampled authors I might never have read, I've picked up news magazines and entertainment magazines and even The New Yorker -- all because I learned to love reading when I was a kid, because reading comics and Mad was fun.

And that's what's wrong with America: America thinks reading isn't fun or worth doing, because so many books are terrible and because we were all made to read terrible books in school and by our parents, and because reading is the hardest form of entertainment -- it's the jogging of the entertainment world, and who wants to jog when there's liposuction available?-- so America has decided that reading is bad.

I can't tolerate that. I don't want my America to be an America where a successful book sells 7000 copies but 5 million people watch Yes, Dear. So I am instituting a second theme month, and declaring that October Is Book Month here on TBOE.

-- Don't click away! It'll be fun, I swear! And interesting!

All month long, each of my posts will relate in some way to books and will point out what's so great about books or a unique way of looking at books or a great book to read or something that hopefully, in some small way, will show people that reading -- reading books -- is fun.

I will begin, today, with what I promised way back in the title of this post: The Best Book That I Think Of When I Think Of The Words "The Best Book."

I was thinking of the words "The Best Book" even before I read Moonrat's comments about selling 7000 books being a big deal; I was thinking of it because I finally gave up on reading The Orchid Thief, a book I got from the library for a dollar and which I've been reading, off and on, since June -- off and on because after I started reading it I gave it up briefly and read Missy and then went back to read more of The Orchid Thief and then stopped again to begin reading The Abstinence Teacher, and when I stopped reading The Orchid Thief a second time I realized that I'll probably never go back to it.

It just didn't captivate me and I didn't want to invest any more time into a book that so far as I could tell had no point other than collecting some interesting tidbits of information about orchids and people who love them. Had I read those tidbits in a magazine article, I likely would have enjoyed it and shared them with my family over dinner. But reading them in a book was taking too long and I just couldn't get up the gumption to read them.

Not that The Abstinence Teacher is any better; it hasn't yet grabbed me the way a good book should. It hasn't, from the very start of it, made me want to keep reading it and compelled me to try to do so.

Missy did that; Missy, from the very first page, was a book that might as well have had printed, at the bottom of each page, the phrase keep reading, you know you want to, because I did; I did want to keep reading it. The same thing happened with Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town -- again, it made me want to keep reading, from the first word on.

That is more and more rare these days, that a book really grabs me. Most books don't; most, I don't even bother reading after I judge them by their covers and/or reviews. Some I stop reading after one or more tries. But even with the few that make it past all of that there are a relatively small percentage that grab me -- and only a handful that make it all the way to great, to the level where, when I'm done reading it, I'm regretful and wish I hadn't finished it because they were so great that I never wanted the book to end.

That is what constitutes a great book. I was mulling that over yesterday, sitting in traffic on the way home listening to Enya on my iPod: I was mulling over the last truly great book I read, and then wondering what book might be The Best Book I've read. I was surprised by what popped into my head when I thought that -- surprised because ever since I read it, this book has popped into my head whenever I think of the words "The Best Book." Since I read it, when I think "The Best Book," I think Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

I read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell the summer I had back surgery; I began reading it on the days when my getting up and moving around was limited to about 15 minutes a day, and I completed it that summer. I was in a lot of pain that summer, and also had to deal with physical therapy and trying to get back into some kind of shape and get caught up from 8 days off of work -- it would have been more, but I had a case to try so I came back on day 9 to try a case wearing my back brace -- and through all of that, I was captivated by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, gripped by it in a way that made me think, on the way home from work, thoughts like I'll get home, eat dinner, talk with the kids and Sweetie, clean up, and then I can get back to reading.

The book tells the story of two English magicians -- real magicians, who do real magic-- over time: Mr Norrell, the old-style magician, secretive, tricky, and powerful, and Jonathan Strange, the youngster upstart who for a time studies with Mr Norrell. But it's so much more than that -- it spans an incredible amount of time, and blends the 'real' England with a world created by Susanna Clarke where magic works and there are other worlds and other types of beings -- blends them in a way that calls to mind Dickens, if Dickens' worlds had magic operating in them. The book feels like a true-life story, an exhaustively researched one, at that; it has the sense of a history or biography, despite being about the fantastic-- but it is not a boring or tedious history or biography, because the writing is clever and moving and the storyline is grand and intimate, all at once, a sweeping epic about two people, detailed and rich and moving and friendly. The people feel alive, more alive than many of the people I know in my actual life.

It's the kind of book that's so good it makes you feel like you're living in the author's world, or wish you could, for a little bit, maybe, the kind where you feel like you know the characters and want to know the characters.

I keep Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell front and center on my bookshelf, and everytime I see it, I'm tempted to pick it up and read it again. I haven't yet, because there's so many books to read that I don't like to repeat books; when I was younger and had time to squander, I'd re-read books but now I'm almost 40 and there's too many books and too little time to do that so much anymore. But I would, and I'm always tempted to, re-read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, because when I first read it, it made me keep reading it, and now that I'm done with it, it sits there and calls to me, saying I captured your imagination once; I can do it again.

That's what makes a good book great-- when the writing and story and detail and characters are so good that they work their way into your mind and stay there, permanently carving out a piece of mental terrain and owning it -- and that's what makes Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell The Best Book That I Think Of When I Think Of The Words "The Best Book.".

Click here to see all the other topics I’ve ever discussed!


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Complicated issues; simple answers.

With everything getting more and more complicated, more and more hectic, more and more demanding, it's nice to realize that in the midst of all that lie some simple choices.

Simple choices like: Should you help yourself, your close relatives, and possibly the world through an easy, at-home procedure? The answer is, simply, YES. The answer is, simply, C'elle.

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Why does C'elle want to collect those cells? Simple: Science has shown that stem cells might be used to treat a variety of diseases, including life-threatening diseases -- horrible diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke, and heart disease. The cells collected now are stored cryogenically to be processed for potential therapies in the future.

C'elle makes life easier, now and in the future. There's no difficulty in getting to the program; you can Order Now right online. Prices are available online, too, so you won't be left guessing.

C'elle makes a complicated, hectic world a little less complicated and hectic; it simplifies your life by presenting you the opportunity to easily, simply, help yourself and your loved ones now and in the future.

All the Showdowns, One Last Time.

Showdown September has ended; TBOE will go back to posting The Best in any category you can imagine starting soon... but here's all the showdowns, one last time:

The Best Elvis

The Best Title Character In Calvin & Hobbes.

The Best Modest Mouse Song That Correctly Applies A Scientific Principle.

The Best Wahlberg Brother (As Judged Solely on The Basis of Their Least-Cool Credit On IMDB

The Best Talkin’ Blues

The Best Cartoon Which is Good at Making Funny Barbershop Quartet Songs And Which Features a Fat Dad as a Character

The Best Sneetch

The Best Song From the One/Two Hit Wonder “The Kings” First Single

The Best Show Andy Richter Starred In That Also Had “Andy” In The Title

The Best Man To Claim a World Record Score on Donkey Kong

The Best Song That Talks About Whether The Singer Of The Song Feels Like Dancing Or Not

TheBest of Two Freaky Cults Trying to Sell You Something or

The Best Celebrity Who Remains Unspeakably Cool No Matter What He Does.

Another Great Linker and Friend of TBOE

The Great Linking Contest continues -- I never end my contests-- and here's another Great Linker: "Beyond The Media."

"Beyond The Media" is, in his words, a blog about his favorite posters -- he puts up pics of the posters that particularly please him, and then writes an excerpt about those posters.

I've been looking at the poster he's got there, and it's a pretty amazing assortment. My second favorite was the Godzilla vs. King Kong series -- but my first favorite was definitely the Pinup girls posters.

I'm not exactly sure why... probably the colors. Yeah. It's the colors. That's all, Sweetie. I swear.

With this program, I can avoid this: reklmef09ruew

I joke about how much blogging I do at "work," but the truth is, I have to do most of it at work because I have two small Babies! at home -- okay, they're not small and they're not Babies!, they're two-year-old toddlers, which makes it worse, because the Babies!, as I still like to call them, are quite naturally fascinated with whatever Daddy does, including when Daddy is working on the computer. So they like to sit on Daddy's lap and watch him work, which makes it difficult to type, because my arms aren't that long.

And because they help me type and it comes out like this:reklmef09ruew .

Plus, I'm not exactly the fastest typist in the world. I do okay, but I think a lot faster than I type, and I talk a lot faster than I type. I was therefore very interested in Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 Preferred, a computer program that automatically transcribes what you say and puts it onto the screen.

With that program, or its companion Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 Standard I could sit with Mr Bunches or Mr F on my lap -- as I'm actually doing right this minute


Mr Bunches! As I said, as I'm doing right this minute, and I could still blog or work on briefs for work or my novels, just by saying what it is I'm thinking. Hands free, so I can protect my coffee and my keyboard, and still work faster than trying to type it out.

It really works, too; the video that shows it working, and the NY Times Review of Dragon NaturallySpeaking show that. Plus, it works in reverse-- if you do video podcasts you can make a transcription available for people, or to have as a record.

Dragon Naturally Speaking is going to make me twice the blogger, and four times the


I was before!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Well it's one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready...

Now GO CAT GO... to The Best of Everything!

Where we are celebrating the end of Showdown September by deciding which is The Best Elvis-- as only TBOE can do it, meaning "only TBOE would talk about Elvis and Saint Anthony of Padua and the Bank Panic of 1907 and somehow mention dorm rooms, also..."
Other recent stuff includes the The Best Of Everything Personality Test! : Five short questions that will change your life, all as expressed through The Best Title Character In Calvin & Hobbes.

The rest of Showdown September:

The Best Modest Mouse Song That Correctly Applies A Scientific Principle.

The Best Wahlberg Brother (As Judged Solely on The Basis of Their Least-Cool Credit On IMDB

The Best Talkin’ Blues

The Best Cartoon Which is Good at Making Funny Barbershop Quartet Songs And Which Features a Fat Dad as a Character

The Best Sneetch

The Best Song From the One/Two Hit Wonder “The Kings” First Single

The Best Show Andy Richter Starred In That Also Had “Andy” In The Title

The Best Man To Claim a World Record Score on Donkey Kong

The Best Song That Talks About Whether The Singer Of The Song Feels Like Dancing Or Not

TheBest of Two Freaky Cults Trying to Sell You Something or

The Best Celebrity Who Remains Unspeakably Cool No Matter What He Does.

But at least the Brewers won -- so Brewers fans can put this off until tomorrow.

Look, I know it's not terribly fun to think about. But it's Monday, September's coming to an end and with it any real chance of decent weather, the Packers lost yesterday... so let's get this over with and think a little bit about what's going to happen when we die.

Not in the metaphysical, afterlife-y sense, but in the "what is my family going to do about my gravestone" sense. You want it to be done right, don't you? You want your family to know what your wishes are, and you want it to memorialize you in the manner that befits the life you had, or the life you wish you had. And you don't want to put additional pressure on your family, which has already had to deal with losing you, by making them make decisions about how to memorialize you.

With Astral Stone, you can pick out the memorial, headstone, or gravestone you want; Astral Stone memorials are lasting ones, created to uphold the solemn duty of honoring life and to do so in a lasting, dignified manner.

Don't put it off, and don't put it onto your loved ones; give some thought now to what's supposed to happen when you die, and then go to Astral Stone and get it set up in advance, to make sure you, or your loved ones, are remembered with honor.

The Best Elvis.

In my continuing quest to break down the barriers of space and time, to smash the walls that we construct that keep us from reaching our true potential, and to overhyperbolize every single thing that I do and conflate it into something of theoretical universal significance... in that quest, I will finish up Showdown September with the Ultimate Showdown, answering the question of which is The Best Elvis.

This Showdown marks the first time I've nominated a Best in a category which in theory contains only one person -- but it contains only person only in theory, because just as science (real science, that is, the science that's found in comic books and Mr. Hassemer's chemistry class, not the "science" that "scientists" tell you about) teaches us that there are a multitude of universes, each similar to but not identical to the rest, so also does science teach us that there are a multitude of Elvises, each similar to but not identical to the rest. There is the Elvis who shocked America and wore black leather jackets, the Elvis who appeased America and wore sequins and sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic, there is the Elvis who appeared in movies like Blue Hawaii which I first watched in the gym of my middle school on "movie night," sitting on a metal chair watching Blue Hawaii and developing a lifelong love for Elvis' music and Hawaii, the Elvis who my Mom cried over when he died, crying about losing him and then moving on to a crush on Rod Stewart, and more: A multitude of Elvises spread across a multitude of minds.

So Elvis is one person and Elvis is millions of people -- like Mangog -- but Elvis is also two people, two Elvises. And here's the part where I really break down walls and all the rest of that stuff, even though I've already done that by pointing out to you in just a few paragraphs how mystical Elvis really is, being one and millions, here's where I really earn my pay and shatter all your expectations and delusions and like Morpheus reveal to you the truth of the world you inhabit:

I'm not talking about fat and skinny Elvis. Those are not the two Elvises of the Showdown -- because those are not two different Elvises. Those are the same Elvis spread out over time. People who try to say there are two different Elvises, one fat, one skinny, reveal themselves to be living in a three-dimensional, as opposed to four-dimensional (or more!) universe, because they reveal themselves to be unfamiliar with the passage of time. Fat Las Vegas Elvis is not a different person than Skinny Leather Elvis; he is the same person in a different era. I am the same me I was at 5 and 15 and 25 and 35 -- just with less hair, more weight, and different television shows to watch. Elvis is the same -- substitute sequins for television shows, since Elvis died in 1978 (I think; and I'm not going to go Google it, so I'm just going to say it was 1978 and because I said it and it's on the Internet, that's now correct... that's how Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers works, so why can't my website work the same way?)

No, I'm talking about the actual two different Elvises -- not Elvis-Over-Time, but the Two Faces of Elvis. I'm talking about Cool Elvis, and Lame Elvis.

That's right. I explained long ago how Lame and Cool can coexist, and Elvis embodies that dichotomy; Elvis is two sides of the same coin -- lame and cool at the same time and over time being both lame and cool and always coexisting; the Many Elvises at various times emphasizing how Lame or Cool Elvis was (or is; I'm not totally on the side of people who think he's dead) and showcasing everything that is great, or lame, about Elvis, and Us, and Life.

Elvis being Cool is the common explanation for why Elvis captivated us, and still captivates us: Elvis started (or popularized) rock and roll, Elvis shocked the world, Elvis had that sneer and those moves, and so on. But "cool" alone is not enough to carry on a legend for so long -- to transfer that legend down over generations, to keep the flame burning bright. Think of other "cool" people, people who were pure cool, and when you do, you'll realize that truly cool people don't live forever in people's imaginations.

Here's some purely cool people: James Dean. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Saint Anthony of Padua. What do they all have in common? They've faded somewhat into obscurity or become symbols or two-dimensional creations. James Dean is now a leather jacket and a poster on a dorm wall. (Middle, going off to college next year, already has furnishings for her dorm room, including a poster of James Dean.) Mozart is a movie and the youngest composer. Saint Anthony, who captivated the world so much in his time that angels spontaneously rang the bells of all the churches when he died... is known for helping people find lost things. (And for this.)

Think, then, of people who are cool but also lame: John Travolta. Abraham Lincoln. Freeing the slaves and winning the war between the states? Very cool. But saying Fourscore? And that beard? Plus he was born poor? Lame. John Travolta, too: The dance in Pulp Fiction, being Danny Zuko: both extremely cool. Dancing with a puppet to amuse Bruce Willis as a baby? Not so much.

But who do you remember? Whose career has lasted longer? You remember John Travolta, not James Dean, and it's not because James Dean died young, it's because James Dean was only cool and had no lameness in him.

It's that lame quality that endears us to people, and it's that lame quality that is essential to a lasting image of cool; the lame quality in those icons that loom large over time is the equivalent of Cindy Crawford's mole: it's the tiny little flaw that only emphasizes just how great the rest is, and it's also the portion that lets us like someone and finally, it's the portion that lets us hope that we, too, could achieve that.

Purely cool people are like purely beautiful people: boring, and we hate them. With no flaws, they are uninteresting and we can never be like them; they are the angels in the universe, above us and inestimable, and ultimately not of great significance in our life.

But people who have a little lameness in them, like Abe Lincoln and like Elvis, are interesting to us and captivate us, because they are like us, to a greater or lesser degree. We are lame; we like BBQ Fritos and Battlestar Galactica and we played Dungeons & Dragons as kids and have Witch Doctor by the Chipmunks on our iPod (assuming that we are all exactly like me) and because we are lame, we want our heroes to be a little lame, too -- because by being a little lame, then they are like us and we are like them, and they become our idols because of that.

Remember: God didn't make angels in his image; he made man in his image. Angels are perfect, and we are not -- and we are in the image of God; so we love not perfection, but imperfection. We are imperfect creations and want to see a little imperfection in those things we love, and believe that despite our imperfections, we can achieve that state, too, whether it be Heaven and an afterlife -- or simply being cool.

So a little imperfection, a little lameness, is essential to rising above the masses and achieving Eternal Cool, as Elvis has done, because only when the cool person has that little imperfection can we truly idolize them. Elvis is not a god among man, but a man among men -- a man who managed to become greater than all of us, but who is still like us and therefore gives us hope that we can achieve that status, too, and lets us like him for his humanity.

So there are two Elvises: the Cool Elvis, and the Lame Elvis, and it is because of those two Elvises that we love Elvis so much; without one, the other would not have lasted long at all. Take away Lame Elvis, and Cool Elvis is a poster on a wall. But take away Cool Elvis, and Lame Elvis spends his days getting beat up by the cool kids.

Which is better, then? To answer that, I first have to show which is which.

Lame Elvis is harder to define and more people will object that Lame Elvis doesn't exist. So I'll start off easy and give you Cool Elvis:

Cool Elvis is Elvis in black leather. Cool Elvis is that shot of Elvis in the sport coat, holding the microphone and shaking his legs. Cool Elvis is the sneer and the pompadour. But Cool Elvis didn't end there. Cool Elvis is Elvis' comeback special on TV -- the first time ever that an entire TV show like that was devoted to a single person, and a show that was so cool itself that even though it is referred to as one show, it was actually more like two or three shows, total, by the time it got repackaged. Cool Elvis is Elvis in Vegas -- moving Vegas, through Viva Las Vegas from mobster haven to middle America. Do you think that families would take vacations to Las Vegas today if Elvis hadn't brought Vegas to them first, the way he brought Rock and Roll, gospel music, and jumpsuits to them, too? Cool Elvis is all about letting people know what they should like.

That was the easy part.

Here's the hard part: Lame Elvis. Lame Elvis joined the Army. In the entire history of America, joining the Army was only cool once: World War II. When Elvis joined, enlisting wasn't cool -- resisting was cool, as Muhammad Ali showed. And Lame Elvis loved his mom; any teenager can tell you how much that sucked -- Moms are great when you're under twelve or over 25. Between 12 and 25, Moms are awful. They want your hair combed and your bed made and you to study hard and go to college, all things that will interfere with your showing your classmates how much of a rebel you are and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Lame Elvis is the Jungle Room and those big sunglasses and maybe being dead and maybe being alive -- because it's lame for us not to know whether Elvis is really dead. We know whether John Lennon is dead. We know whether Mozart is dead. You know who we're never sure is dead or alive? Bad guys: Where's Osama Bin Laden? You know who else we're never sure is dead or alive? Abe Vigoda. And what's cool about him? If you can mention a person in the same sentence as Abe Vigoda, then unless that sentence is He's nothing like Abe Vigoda, that person is kind of lame.

Lame Elvis like Lame Songs, too: Cool Elvis somehow resurrected them, but the songs themselves were Lame. Take a look at one of the most famous hits from Elvis, Hound Dog.

Ever stop to think about the lyrics? Here they are:

You aint nothin but a hound dog
Cryin all the time.
You aint nothin but a hound dog
Cryin all the time.
Well, you aint never caught a rabbit
And you aint no friend of mine.

When they said you was high classed,
Well, that was just a lie.
When they said you was high classed,
Well, that was just a lie.
You aint never caught a rabbit
And you aint no friend of mine.

Is he talking to an actual hound dog? Or is he using hound dog as a metaphor for someone else, a friend or girlfriend or someone? If so, then what, exactly, is that metaphor? What would catching a rabbit be? If you were the friend or girlfriend Elvis is metaphorically chastising in that song, wouldn't you, at the end of it, say What is it, exactly, that you want from me? Am I supposed to go CATCH a rabbit? If not, then what in the world SHOULD I be doing? And then, wouldn't you say Would I be high classed if I HAD caught a rabbit? Because that's kind of what it seems you intended.

If you Google "what is the meaning of 'hound dog'", having been too lazy to Google when Elvis died but not being too lazy to see if someone, somewhere, has also wondered whether that song means something, you'll find out that, yes, someone has: Debbie did a music project on "Hound Dog," so she asked Mel The Expert about what the song meant, and Mel The Expert, in an example of how I say that symbolism can be read into anything, said that it's likely the song is about

an allegorical term for a useless, lazy husband who didn't fulfil his initial promise and was no better than an old hound forever sleeping on the porch and getting under people's feet

And to prove that Mel The Expert was reading too much into the song, I'll do two things: First, I'll note that Mel The Expert talks about a dog sleeping on the porch, but that's not anywhere in the song -- Mel The Expert has imported into the song his own experiences with Hound Dogs, proving the My Aunt's Dog Theorem yet again.

Second, I'll interpret Hound Dog in such a way as to make it an allegorical tale not about a no-good husband-- which makes no sense because when Elvis sings it, he'd likely be talking to a woman, and would a woman be responsible, in 50's America, for catching a rabbit? Women weren't expected to bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan until the 1970s; prior to that, they simply fried up whatever their husbands brought home -- usually a roast-- no, I'll interpret Hound Dog so as to make it an allegorical tale about the Bank Panic of 1907.

The Bank Panic of 1907 was brought about largely by a guy named Otto Heinze, who tried to corner the copper market and borrowed money from a lot of banks to do that. Heinze's bizarre attempt to become the Copper King failed, and then banks began to fail, apparently because people became aware that their banks were using deposits to finance this scheme -- people back then were more aware of financial doings because they didn't have Fantasy Football teams to manage and so they could read the newspaper -- and runs began on the banks.

Into the fray stepped J.P. Morgan, who at that time was a single guy instead of the de facto Fourth Branch of the U.S. government; J.P. Morgan got all his banker buddies together and they solved the crisis using a method that I was not able to find out in my exhaustive research on this topic, but a method which, although mysterious, somehow led to the creation of the Federal Reserve System.

So, with that backdrop, let's look at Hound Dog in the light in which Elvis intended it: as an explanation of the 1907 Bank Panic.

You aint nothin but a hound dog Cryin all the time.-- This is Otto Heinze, whose efforts to corner the copper market were an obvious attempt to draw attention to himself, the way a hound dog howls.

Well, you aint never caught a rabbit And you aint no friend of mine.-- Heinze failed to "catch the rabbit" by failing to corner the copper market; he's no "friend of mine" because he brought about the panic.

When they said you was high classed, Well, that was just a lie.-- Expresses how the public felt duped by the banks, and how the banks felt duped by Heinze.

Moreover, the repetition Elvis engages in, repeating certain lines, is an obvious parallel to the way the economy goes in cycles, repeating itself at times in boom and bust cycles that get better or worse but which we'll see again.

So, could anything be more Lame than a song about the Bank Panic of 1907? I think not -- and yet Cool Elvis saved that song and it lives on forever.

Lame Elvis, Cool Elvis. Lame Elvis, Cool Elvis: Having shown that the two exist, simultaneously, I now have to pick The Best Elvis... and close out Showdown September in doing so.

The answer, as it is so often, lies within ourselves, just as Yoda probably taught. That seems like something Yoda would say, doesn't it? The answer in you lies. Yoda, in probably saying that, was right, and like so many teachings, and like Elvis, that advice has several levels, because the answer is both in us and is us: It's Lame Elvis.

Lame Elvis is The Best Elvis because Lame Elvis is the part that's like us; Lame Elvis is the part that allows us to see a little of ourselves in Elvis, and therefore not only identify with him but also hope that we could rise up, from the downtrodden masses of people listening to "Witch Doctor" while trying to remember our D&D character names, rise up from that to stand astride the American landscape, a towering monumental presence that will live for generations. Lame Elvis shows us not only that a little bit of lameness is essential for the coolness to transcend itself, but also that we can strive to achieve that transcendent level of coolness, too. So, Lame Elvis, for giving us hope, for giving us inspiration, and for giving us great songs that are definitely about the Bank Panic of 1907, I name you The Best Elvis.

Related posts: Want to know what the "My Aunt's Dog Theorem" is? Find out here. And Lame/Cool month began with a discussion of Longitude...

Click here to see all the other topics I’ve ever discussed!

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My first book of essays is out! Click here to buy Thinking The Lions, And 117* Other Ways To Look At Life (*Give Or Take)

Help That Doesn't Come From D.C.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shame On America Sunday: Four Questions To Ask When Someone Needs Money.

NOTE: If you read all the way to the end, you will see my bailout plan that will not cost the taxpayers anything and will definitely work. But
you have to sit through some rhetoric, first.

Shame On America Sunday is about contrasts -- about the comparing of two things that exist, side by side in America; the fact that those two things could exist, side-by-side, is why America, the richest greatest proudest country in the history of the world, should be ashamed of itself.

Today is no different. Well, today is a little different, because today, I'm starting with the little guy first. Usually, I begin where people's attention is always focused: The rich, the powerful, the famous, the spoiled-brat-kids/Tonight Show hosts who waste money, the selfish greedionaires.

I'm going to reverse that today.
He owns a house:

Here's Michael "J.B." Schaffner of Nocona Texas. "J.B" is a trucker hauling for a small company. Back in May, "J.B." was one of the organizers of a convoy to Washington D.C. to try to get Congress to do something about his ailing industry. "J.B." at the time was fueling his truck in small amounts, trying not to spend too much at any one time. One day, in his words, "I woke up and said a prayer," and began trying to do something to get some action about the high cost of fuel.

The trucking industry was in crisis before May, 2008; in the first quarter of 2008, nearly 1000 trucking companies went bankrupt.

Naturally, Congress went right to work, right? Of course they did: They introduced HR 6922, a bill to provide low-interest loans to companies hit hard by rising fuel costs.

They went straight to work on it, I said. They... introduced it to a committee where it sits to this day. HR 6922 is just a bill, sitting there on Capitol Hill -- it went off to committee, where it sits there and waits.

So Congress leapt right to action, and then slept right back to inaction.

Nobody, in the end, paid attention to "J.B." Did you hear about the convoy? Did you hear about HR 6922? Did Worst President Ever George Bush go on TV urging you to help the truckers?


He owns two houses and is worth $700 million.
Here's Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr. Odds are you've heard of him -- but only in the past few days. The odds are that you know that Paulson is the current Secretary of the Treasury; he's the guy that proposed the government give him $700 billion dollars with no strings attached and no oversight possible. When you propose someone give you $700 billion to do what you want with, that attracts attention.

Prior to that, Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., attracted very little attention, which is odd because people usually pay at least some attention to the ultra-rich swank business leaders.

Paulson is ultra-rich. He was born in Palm Beach, Florida. He went to Ivy League school Dartmouth, and then Harvard Business School. He owns, at last report, two homes. (How many homes do you have? I have just the one.)

Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., became a partner at Goldman Sachs in 1982. He had a leadership role of one sort or another at Goldman Sachs from 1982 through 2006; he ended his career at Goldman Sachs in 2006 when he came to join the Failed Bush Administration in its multiyear plan to destroy America.

Where else have you heard "Goldman Sachs" lately? You may be struggling to sort out all the financial news, so I'll help you with some recent news quotes that feature "Goldman Sachs."

From "The Economic Times." Last Sunday marked the end of an era. That was the day Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the last two of the original five big investment banks on Wall Street, became history.

From "The New York Times." The beginning of the end is felt even in the halls of the white-shoe firm Goldman Sachs, which, among its Wall Street peers, epitomized and defined a high-risk, high-return culture.

Why are you smiling, Henry Merritt
Paulson, Jr.?

There are those who say that Goldman Sachs -- whose employees earned an average of $600,000 per year in 2007 -- will survive because of major changes it has made. Don't connect those changes with Paulson, though. From that same NYTimes article:

GOLDMAN’S latest golden era can be traced to the rise of Mr. Blankfein, the Brooklyn-born trading genius who took the helm in June 2006, when Henry M. Paulson Jr., a veteran investment banker and adviser to many of the world’s biggest companies, left the bank to become the nation’s Treasury secretary.

Is it because your company helped create a
culture that led to this, while enriching you
to a ridiculous degree?

Blankfein took over because Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., had moved to Washington, D.C., having earned $53.4 million in the previous two years as head of Goldman Sachs; with a net worth of over $700 million, Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., could afford to take the pay cut from an average of $25 million per year to $191,300 per year -- that's what the Secretary of the Treasury is paid -- and live off of savings.

Interestingly, I did a Google search to see if Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr.'s commitment to public service included not collecting some or all of his $191,300 per year government salary -- he surely doesn't need it-- but found nothing to suggest that he returns that money back to the Treasury.

(By comparison, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, whose net worth is very low, routinely refuses pay increases, and his office routinely cuts pay and returns money to the U.S. Treasury. In 2002, Feingold had negative equity in his home in Middleton, Wisconsin, and yet refused a $9000 per year pay increase, accepting only the $136,700 that was in effect when he was elected. In 2008, he listed less than $350,000 in assets and a liability that included his second mortgage.)

Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., clearly has the ear of Washington, unlike Michael "J.B." Schaffner. When Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., went to Congress and asked for $700 billion, Congress went into round-the-clock negotiations; John McCain briefly and hyperbolically suspended his campaign to address the problem (and duck a debate with Obama). Failed Worst President Ever George W. Bush went on TV to urge Americans to support the cause.

Why would Washington, D.C., listen to Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., so avidly, but pay no real attention to Michael "J.B." Schaffner?

Why is the government prepared only to lend money, at low interest rates to struggling trucker firms but will hand money over to giant investment banks? The truckers did not make poor investment decisions trying to "epitomize[] a high-risk, high-return culture." They weren't creating poorly-understood financial packages that created money from nothing, like so many real-life Sherman McCoys; they were driving around the food and materials we need, and were hit hard by events beyond their own control -- the high gas prices.

I don't know, for sure, why DC listens to rich men but not truckers -- but I suspect that it's because the rich men contribute to campaigns and can give lucrative jobs to people once they leave public office -- and that makes me suspect that the "bailout" is nothing of the sort, but instead a payoff or a bribe. If a bailout was a good idea, I suspect that Congress would have bailed out the trucking companies; or at the least would have voted on the idea in the past four months.

The haste with which the richest, best, greatest nation ever is bending over backwards to help millionaires stay millionaires, when contrasted with the way the richest, best, greatest nation ever has ignored for four months the poor struggling truckers, tells me that Congress is concerned less with helping businesses or the economy and more with helping itself get re-elected or land a cushy job. If you were hoping to stay employed and keep your house, would you rather have Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., owe you a favor, or "J.B.?" No offense, "J.B." -- you're probably a nice guy, but Congress would rather suck up to Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., and the investment bankers.

So on that bailout: Every single time the government tells you that a business is too big to fail; ever single time the government tells you that intervention in the marketplace is necessary, every single time the government says we need to do this, why not call your congressperson and ask them which trucking companies were "too big to fail?" Why not ask them why trucking companies are allowed to go bankrupt but investment banks aren't? Why not ask them why it costs more to get your children's cereal to the store, making you pay more for your children's breakfast, while the government is subsidizing Wall Street bankers who averaged $600,000 per year?

Ask them why their plan is to use your money to help out people who earn, on average, $600,000 per year, people who gambled that money -- and why your money isn't used to help out businesses like "J.B.'s" trucking company?

I suspect Congress' plan won't work, and I suspect that Congress is instituting the plan for its own gain rather than the country's gain, because not only is Congress disingenuously insisting that the government must help businesses, insisting that about the business of millionaires while ignoring the business of common folk -- not only that, but also because Congress has not yet stopped to ask the four questions it must ask.
On the foreclosure block: People's houses.
The Fix: Whenever someone asks me for money, I ask them four questions: How much do you need? What is it for? How'd you end up here? And how can I make sure you don't come back next week?

Those four questions are not being asked. Specifically, the last two are not being asked. The banks are failing because they engaged in two basic, flawed practices, and then engaged in a third.

Not on the foreclosure block: the Goldman Sachs Building.
Banks began subprime lending as the housing market exploded, fueled by cheap money from low interest rates. "Subprime" lending means lending to people who were not good credit risks. That is, banks took more risks with their money; in roulette terms, instead of betting on "red," they bet on "Red 23." At the same time, banks began "securitizing" loans. "Securitization" is a complicated process, but it amounts to this: No one bank owns your mortgage loan. Instead, a variety of investors and banks hold pieces of your loan; they all make money based on various factors that have very little direct connection with whether or not you pay your loan.

That led to two problems: First, people defaulting on their loans -- not unexpectedly, given that they were poor credit risks in the first place. To qualify some debtors, loans began with deceptively low payments, payments that didn't even cover the accruing interest, which meant that every single day, these homeowners owed more on their loan than they did the day before.

At the same time, the housing market became saturated; how many homes do you think people can buy? After a time, a slump will always occur, as everyone who wanted to or could buy a house did, and you have to wait for another upturn.

So it began: People began defaulting, and housing prices slumped. At the same time, too, there was nobody on the other end of the mortgage who could make responsible choices. When people defaulted on their loans, there was nobody on the other end of the line who could cut a new deal, try to cut their losses, or otherwise deal responsibly with it. Mortgage servicers and lawyers were turned loose with one direction: Foreclose.

All those foreclosed houses end up on the market, an already depressed market, creating a housing glut, and further cutting into the bank's profits.

If you loaned money to someone, and they came back and said I can't pay you in full, you'd have a couple of choices: Forgive the debt. Enforce the debt. Or modify the debt. You could say "Tough, I want all my money now" and sue and try to get it all, running the risk that you get nothing and increase your expenses. Or you could say Well, pay me what you can and we'll see if things don't get better. You could say If you pay me 60% of what you owe me, we'll call it even, so that you get money today without further risk or expense.

All of those might be viable choices depending on your circumstances and the particular deal. But you would be able to make those choices and determine which is best.

Securitized loans don't have that. Lenders sell the loan and there's nobody out there, no one person, who can make or not make a deal, in almost every case.

That's a longwinded way of introducing my own bailout plan, because I had to answer those two questions that nobody is asking: How'd you end up here? And how can I make sure you don't come back next week? Those are the two most important questions.

We ended up here because of securitization of loans and bad loans. We can make sure they don't come back next week by addressing those loans.

So here is my bailout, which costs the government next to nothing; some parts of this were suggested to me by people and I liked them, so I'm taking their ideas:

1. Tell states that to get federal highway funds in 2009 and 2010, they must institute an immediate 12-month moratorium on foreclosures. This costs no government or taxpayer anything; the federal highway funds will be paid or not, regardless, and states gain or lose nothing from stopping foreclosures. No state ever bucks the federal highway money threat. By doing this, the housing market depression is stalled, and mortgages that are or would soon be in foreclosure are frozen -- giving lenders a powerful incentive to begin working on some other package. (Thanks to Bill Clinton and A Guy At Work for this suggestion.)

2. Allow any person to receive a government guarantee on their loan, in an amount up to the median value of homes in that county, by converting the loan to a nondischargeable, fixed-rate lower-interest obligation. This program would work like the guaranteed student-loan program; borrowers would agree that their loan would be a personal obligation and nondischargeable in bankruptcy, as student loans are, and in exchange for that, the government would guarantee payment to the lender, but the interest rate would be reduced to just above the current prime rate. Borrowers who owe more than the median value of homes in their area would not qualify; only primary residences would qualify. The government might take a short-term hit as they pay off banks on defaulted loans, but would be able to collect against the borrowers in the long run. Banks would lose some income by trading sky-high adjustables for lower fixed-rate mortgage -- but would avoid defaults and have a guaranteed income stream. (Thanks to A Gal At Work for this suggestion.)

3. Encourage investment in troubled banks on a long-term basis by eliminating taxes on certain investments. The government would encourage wealthy individuals -- like Warren Buffett, who just took a huge stake in Goldman Sachs, and like the Forbes 400 -- to bailout the companies using private money; this encouragement would be given by first developing a list of troubled companies that need a bailout -- including unglamorous trucking companies. The goverment would then announce that anyone who purchases stock in a company on the list would receive all dividends from that stock, if any, tax-free for 10 years, provided they held the stock for 10 years. In addition, any capital gain on the stock, if held for 10 years, would be tax-free. Any tax deductible loss after 10 years would be doubled, if the stock was held for 10 years. The government could do the same things for bonds issued by those companies: allow the companies to issue 10-year or longer bonds, bonds that are not tradeable but must be held, and make the interest earned on those bonds tax-free. (Thanks to ME for this suggestion.)

That prong, if the companies do well, costs the government nothing; it must forego EXTRA tax revenue on the income earned, but does not spend any additional money. If the companies do not do well, the government, in 10 years, will suffer some reduced tax revenues from the doubled deduction for losses.

Simple: Three Steps, and it stops the problem. The housing market can rebound; people who bought affordable homes will be protected, while people who borrowed, or lent, money foolishly will have a year to try to resolve the problem and then will be left in their own boat; and private money will solve private companies' problems, with some government encouragement.

What you can do until the Fix is in: Contact Your Congress Person! Tell them No Public Money for Private Companies! Urge them to ask those four questions and adopt my plan -- or suggest a plan of your own.

Clicking on this link will take you to a map of the US; click your state and get easy access to your congressperson and senators. I'm going to email this link to mine; you can do the same.