Thursday, March 29, 2007

Time may be short on Gonzalez contest

Readers of these ramblings will remember there is a contest going on.
Despite the promotion of this contest in the New Haven Independent, only four of you have stepped forward to put in your bid for a Len'sLens T-shirt, if we ever make them.
So, let's reiterate.
Go to this URL and make your prediction on when Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez will get the boot from his good buddy and pal forever George Bush.
Why now?
Well, today, March 29, 2007, Kyle Sampson, the former (just quit) chief of staff for Gonzalez, told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that his boss was being less than truthful about the attorney general's role in firing eight U.S. Attorneys.
Well, when your Leo McGarry (as in West Wing) gets up in front of the Senate panel and calls you a liar, well, it just may be time to polish up the old resume.
We know that Bush has a talent for avoiding the obvious (unless you're Joe Lieberman, that is), but how long can even he avoid the truth. Don Rumsfeld found out that even Bush can't hold out forever. That's former Defense Secretary Rummy (emphasis on the former), to those who have been living in a cave for the past four years.
Actually, living in a cave may have its points, but with a Democratic Congress around, looking for a place to hide can wait for a couple of years anyway.
But I digress. Get your prediction in soon. And for those who predicted a long time before Gonzalez gets the boot, you may want to make another prediction.
There's no rule that says you can only predict once.
Good Luck.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Let's hear it for Tito and company

Put me down as a fan of Red Sox Manager Terry Francona and company.

They made the right move in appointing Jonathan Papelbon the official closer. After all, he can't possibly keep that scowl going for six or seven innings.

Seriously, folks, it's the logical choice, now that Daisuke Matsuzaka has shown he's for real with a convincing five-plus inning performance on Wednesday (March 21, 2007),

Dice-K, as he's being called by sports writers too lazy to write the whole name and who haven't figured out how to use the save/get key on their computers, looked strong in pitching.

He also looked strong in the way he got upset at calls and reacted. In one such call, the ump got it wrong on a low strike that catcher Jason Veritek caught just before it hit the dirt. Matsuzaka looked ticked off, grimaced, and then put the next pitch in the same spot, only a couple of inches higher. Strike Three -- that time the ump got it right.

That takes heart. The kid looks like he's got a lot of heart and looks like he's a nice guy, too. But then again, everybody is a nice guy in spring training where it really counts only in the last four or five games.

Papelbon was a slam-the-door closer before he was hurt last year. With Mike Timlin on the disabled list, it's a no-brainer. It's great Tito and his minions agree. Schilling, Matsuzaka, Beckett and Wakefield and whoever else starts has to know that if he's getting a bit tired after seven innings, there won't be a guy who enjoys seeing balls flying out of the stadium taking over for him.

There needs to be other aces in the bullpen -- nobody's saying no. But with important (read Yankees) games on the line, we need to be able to count on THE STARE.

Good one, Tito!

Bring me the head of Alberto Gonzalez

There's no way on this site to gauge whether anybody is reading these ramblings.

Advertisers gauge by giving something away. So, here goes.

Send me, either as a post or as an e-mail the answer to the following question:
Now that President Bush has expressed his absolute confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and made a point out of saying he's sticking by the embattled Cabinet member no matter how thick the dust gets around the U.S. Attorney scandal, how long will it be before Gonzalez gets the boot. You know, the Don Rumsfeld seal of approval -- here's your hat, what's your hurry.

You can either pick a date or pick days, with March 23, 2007, being Day One.

The winner will get a Len'sLens T-shirt, if we ever make any.

If we don't made T-shirts, or even if we do, we'll announce the winner on the day that Alberto gets the old heave-ho, or at least the day after.

There have to be rules. If Gonzalez gets appointed to a federal judgeship at the Circuit Court of Appeals or higher, or is named ambassador to someplace about which anybody cares, then all bets are off.

If White House spokesman Tony Snow announces that Gonzalez is going hunting with the vice president, then all bets are really off.

Leaving to pursue other options, including being commissioner of the National Hockey League, counts. Leaving to spend more time with his family also counts.

Good Luck!

Oh, yes. I'm told that some of my citations are a bit obscure. My headline comes from a movie, "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia," a wonderful 1974 cult film with Warren Oates, Gig Young and Kris Kristofferson being the only actors most people would have ever heard of. It was directed by Sam Peckinpah and is about this guy, a hooker and a bounty hunt.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Red Sox Nation is for real

When I became a rabid Red Sox fan a number of years ago, I thought Red Sox Nation was a cute way of tying Boston baseball fans together, sort of a shared affinity, more existential than physical.

I was wrong. It's a real thing and it has real value. And it's also got nice citizens who do things for each other.

Just like cops and firefighters wear insignia to identify themselves to colleagues, Red Sox Nation members have hats and shirts and other articles of clothing.

I learned it pays to wear your "B" or red sox because other members of Red Sox Nation, unlike the filthy swine from the Bronx, really care for each other.

For example, my wife and I were at one of the Disney parks a couple of years ago. I won't identify it further -- I don't want to get a fellow Sox fan in trouble.

We had dinner reservations for a certain time and were wondering if we had enough time to experience a nearby ride. I was proudly wearing the "B" and as I approached the ride's door, I heard, "Go Red Sox."

"Go Red Sox," I repeated. The fan, who was working at the ride, asked if there was a problem. I let her know of our dilemma. She said there was enough time for the ride, but not enough for the ride and the wait on line.

"Come this way," she whispered conspiratorially. She led us through a back door and to the loading area. "Wait're on the next car."

We thanked her and sure enough, we were escorted to front-row seats for the next departure. We enjoyed the ride and got to the restaurant in plenty of time.

The benefit of wearing the Sox colors isn't just in things people do for you. Some time ago, my wife and I were traveling through Virginia. We needed to interrupt the trip in Alexandria, Va., while she was to attend a meeting scheduled to last about two hours.

I began wandering tiredly around Old Town. Of course, I was wearing my Sox cap.

It had been a long drive and I was too bushed to want to do much sight-seeing. I had been to Old Town many times before, and had seen many of the major sights, so I looked forward to two hours of boredom.

As I walked past a tavern near the Town Hall, I heard the familiar "Go Red Sox."

The speaker was a man in his 70s, a man who had tipped a couple back at the bar. I responded in kind and told him I wasn't surprised to find a Sox fan this far south. He said the Nation's population in the area was a bit thin. He had moved from New England and kept his membership in the nation.

For the next hour,and a half, we sat on a bench and chatted about everything from baseball to the politics of the area to why I didn't want to accompany him back into the bar -- I still had many hours to drive and I knew my wife wouldn't be able to drive the whole way back to Connecticut.

We parted and I slowly walked back just in time to see my wife emerge from her meeting. What could have been a horrible time ended up as a wonderful afternoon because of the affinity of Red Sox Nation.

So, friends, the take-away message is threefold: Red Sox Nation is for real, it is up to all of us to do what we can for our fellow fans and seek out the pleasure of another fan's company.

Go Red Sox.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday in the snow with Paul

It's Friday...the first this year in Daylight Savings Time .

The snow is falling fast and furious, so I'm glad we didn't call the time change summer hours as some nations do. I love irony, but enough is enough.

I just finished watching Paul Bass' (I'm using AP style, not NYT) weekly v-blog

Paul and his cohorts are doing a great job covering New Haven, and that has nothing to do with his putting my smiling face on the home page.

I only have one question: How much of a placement fee did you get for showing that Stop & Shop bag? None? Get with it, pal. Don't be elstupido.

But to be serious for a moment, Paul brings out some need points about the presumption of innocence and about the good work done by the vast majority of New Haven's police, including work by Billy White in the past.

I'm waiting for the other three or four shoes to drop -- not necessarily about who else is charged, but how far up knowledge goes of these shenanigans. It seems that no matter what the scandal: housing, economic development, the police, the mayor channels John Banner (Sgt. Schultz on "Hogan's Heroes." "I know nothing, I see nothing, I hear nothing."

Look, I know that even if the mayor knew all about the cop scandal, he couldn't and shouldn't interfere with an FBI probe. That would be stupid and illegal. But I seem to remember a HUD scandal a few years ago with the mayor saying he was shocked, shocked do you hear, about the goings-on. I just hope there isn't head-in-the-sand behavior in the mayor's office.

To sum up, if you live anywhere near New Haven or just want an example of great community journalism, And again, this has nothing to do with my puss being on the home page.

Time for some silliness.

My wife and I were in Maryland the other day (see the March 14 post to find out why you should care) and we decided to see a movie. I won't mention the name of the theater chain (think Rambler autos) but we had to laugh about their silliness.

The decision to see a movie was last-minute, so we hadn't boned up on the latest releases, and the box office just had names and times at this super-mega movie house (defined by me as anything over 14 screens).

We looked around for a description sheet such as are available at the greater-New Haven chains. Nothing. So we took a shot, paid our money and went in.

And what was waiting for us: yep, a whole pile of sheets expounding on the plots, actors, reviews and running times for the night's offerings. Why these weren't in the lobby is a question I'll have to call theater management to ask some day.

I remember the same situation at a complex owned by the same company in New Jersey. But then, we had friends with us who could answer our questions, so I guess it didn't matter.

Just a little Friday silliness.

Oh, I would be remiss if I didn't give a plug to William Shatner and the PriceLine "Name Your Own Price" booking service.

Just for the heck of it, we decided to try to book a hotel through them recently. We asked for a three-star hotel in the Washington, D.C., area and bid $50. Within seconds, wham, we had it. It turned out to be a nice, big room at a modern and ultra-clean Holiday Inn. The rack rate for the room we got was $180 a night. Hey, I don't hand out plugs, but this was just great. Two nights, two people in a large room with a king-sized bed, wi-fi, a sleeper couch, indoor pool, whirlpool that actually worked, all for $120 including tax.

Anyway, I hereby declare under the penalties yadda yadda that I received no compensation from PriceLine or Shatner, other than to thoroughly enjoy his Denny Crane portrayal on that wonderful "Boston Legal" TV show.

Enough for today. For those in the Northeast, happy shoveling. For the members of the tribe, Good Shabbos.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Ides of March for mortgages

The Ides of March hath come, Julius Caesar tells the soothsayer who had told the ruler to beware the Ides of March. That's today, March 15.
Aye, but not yet gone, is the seer's answer.

What has this Shakespeare scene to do with mortgages? Well, lots.
First, there was the warning. There were lots of warnings. One of the first was from yours truly last summer, in a piece for the Norwalk Hour and its weeklies.

In essence, the experts in the story were saying that these subprime mortgages were dangerous because the borrowers could barely make their payments under the best of circumstances. Any gap in income caused by job loss or sickness, or any unexpected expense such as a car failing would throw them into a financial black hole from which they could not escape.

Many if not most of the subprime loans were variable-rate mortgages whose interest rates change every few years or even every few months. The borrowers may have thought they could renegotiate more favorable terms based on an increase in how much their homes are worth. That's not happening -- if anything, house prices are declining.

As the houses purchased by subprime borrowers go back on the market after foreclosure or surrender, and as all buyers sit on the sidelines as interest rates go up and as lenders become more selective, house prices will go lower because of supply and demand.

Is this unusual or the start of a house collapse? No, it's part of the normal cycle. It happened in the early 1990s, but that one was worse than this one will be because of the huge numbers of condominiums coming on the market 16 or 17 years ago. This cycle will work itself out as house and condo prices get low enough to entice buyers.

The first act of the drama that's playing out now. It's not over by a mile.

As my story predicted, there are many other dangerous trends that are playing themselves out that will involve prime borrowers.

Those who may be affected are people who borrowed against the equity in their homes using second mortgages, home equity loans and lines of credit to buy cars and pay down credit cards. Equity is the amount a house is worth after the mortgage and other debts are subtracted.

Interest on home loans is tax-deductible, while interest on credit card and auto debt is not. So it may make sense to borrow against the equity, as long as you can comfortably absorb the payments.

According to USA Today, 43 percent of home buyers were financing the entire cost of the home with no down payment. Many others were putting down as little 2 percent. That's not much of a cushion.

Most of these borrowers are counting on their homes increasing in value. Over the long run, it's a good bet. But if sickness or job loss enters the picture, and the mortgage is for more than the house is worth, then there's a problem.

That's what may happen to some borrowers. People who were paying only the interest on their mortgages, people who borrowed 125 percent of their home's value and others who went into negative amortization loans could be in trouble if they had to sell quickly. Negative amortization is where the debt piles up quicker that it's being paid off.

As Nick Perna, an economist who does work for Webster Bank has said, all these strategies are good if you do your homework.

But if you did not plan realistically, if you did not leave a cushion and you've gotten in over your head, then metaphorically, you may end up like Caesar. The Ides of March may have come but not yet gone for you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A few comments on New Haven events

It's a sad day in New Haven.

Of all the cops on a police force, the most honest, most trustworthy must be the dope squad.

Because dope dealers don't carry around credit-card machines, the dope business has always been a cash business. Dope costs lots and because dope dealers have a reputation for being particularly nasty, their customers need to get lots of cash to give them. The way they get that cash is where ordinary citizens are drawn into their world, usually as victims of other crimes such as burglary, robbery and assault and, too often, homicide.

And because this is a big-time cash business, the possibility of sticky fingers also is present. That's why dope cops must be so honest.

And that's why it's so shocking when they're not and why the FBI charges against the two New Haven cops are so concerning.

See the New Haven Independent's excellent coverage of the story, starting with

Of course, it should be noted that these are just allegations. Everybody is considered innocent until a judge or jury pronounces them guilty. But this is just another black eye for New Haven.

On another note, the New Haven Independent story about the Jewish Home for the Aged putting its Hill neighborhood facility up for sale and planning to move to the Jewish Community Center campus may be concerning to some people. It's not to me.

I just returned from visiting my step-mother (she's really been like a mother to us, but I want to be precise) in Rockville, Md.

The Jewish center campus in Rockville is a wonderful, awe-inspiring, huge place. The campus contains a rehab center, assisted living apartments, a home for the aged, a Jewish Community Center, kosher eating facilities -- in other words, a complete Jewish center. This is what every Jewish Community Center should be.

Revitz House is the building in which my mom lives. Activities? Posters on the day's activities take up the the three walls of the large elevator. Each day, buses go to the nearby shopping centers and malls. There is transportation to doctors' offices, hospitals for out-patient care, and the like. The grounds are magnificent. There's parking for scores of residents' cars, and the spots are full.

When my mom needed rehab after surgery, the Wasserman center was just down the sidewalk from her building, so her friends could visit. If someone is unable to care for themselves, the home or homes for the aged are right there. Revitz house residents can walk to visit spouses or friends in these facilities, and do so daily.

The facility is a couple of blocks away from the Rockville Pike, a main drag in Rockville, with malls and shopping centers cheek by jowl for miles. The only problem with the New Haven-area JCC is that it's so far removed from shopping and medical facilities, and one cannot see Woodbridge allowing a Route 1-type development on Amity Road.
A concerted effort must accompany any development of the campus to provide transportation, both for residents as well as those who wish to visit them.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Where's he been????

Well, good day after a long hiatus. Sorry that I've been away. A few of you have written to say you enjoy these ramblings. Thank you much. I do appreciate.

So much has happened since the ides of February....won't try to catch up. Nothing more stale than yesterday's news.

Speaking of yesterday's news, Gannett, Inc., the nation's largest newspaper chain and my former employer, (The Journal News and USA Today) has purchased The Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time (no, it's not times, it is time) from the Tribune company, another former employer (New York Daily News).

Gannett forked over some $73 million, which is a bargain compared to the bloated prices paid for the New Haven Register in the 1980s and the then-Bridgeport Post, now Connecticut Post, in the late 80s or early 90s. Those went for nine figures each.

It also makes sense from circulation and editorial standpoints of The Journal News, although I'm not sure how well the readers will be served.

When they belonged first to the L.A. Times, then to Tribune, Stamford and Greenwich could carry in-state stories generated by The Hartford Courant and regional Newsday stories, as well as their own work.

They won't have that, but they still will have work generated by Gannett News Service in Albany and the local stuff generated by The Journal News. It's not that The Journal News (TJN) doesn't have the talent to cover the region. The only question is if Bob Fredericks and his crew have the horses.

The New York crew, especially the news and copy desks, will also have to go to school on how things work in Connecticut.

In Westchester, Putnam and Rockland, it's county this and county that. School districts don't match there are two school districts that even cross county lines. There are hamlets and villages and towns. What's a neighborhood in Stamford and Greenwich are villages with their own mayors and boards and police and fire in Westchester.

In Connecticut, towns and school districts are the same. Connecticut has, by statute, 169 towns. If you come into New Haven, population of 120,000 or so thousand, you may see a sign that says Town Line. So what.
In Westchester, the quickest way to get into a fistfight is to call a village a town and a town a city.

In Connecticut, Groton is a city and a town and is the only town and city that has separate town buildings. In Westchester, there are many such duplications.

From a circulation and advertising standpoint, it makes sense. With Danbury on the block or sold, Westchester and Putnam now have more to sell. There may be an excuse to reintroduce zoning, which a lot of people in Westchester miss.

TJN may be able to work out better in the Richfields and New Canaan and other tony places and do battle with Norwalk and Bridgeport.

Anyway, it's a good deal.

Gotta go, but not before I say good luck to an old buddy, David McKay Wilson, who is leaving TJN to do this blogging for a living. David is a journeyman who worked for papers in Connecticut including the New Haven Advocate. I hope he does well. He's a great digger and is dedicated to finding and telling the truth and let the devil take the hindmost.
Best of luck, Dave. Give 'em hell.