There was a terrible accident not far from here Monday, up in Macomb County. A gutter-level alcoholic with a BAC at nearly three times the legal limit drove her van into a car full of teenagers waiting to make a left turn. All the kids — four of them, ages 15 to 19 — died, and the drunk received only minor injuries. They charged her with four counts of second-degree murder, a wise choice under the circumstances.

Every day, the story seems to get worse. We’ve known for a while now that the driver, a woman named Frances Dingle, had been drinking “at a party” earlier in the evening, and had been warned not to drive, but did so anyway. Today we learn that the “party” consisted of a confrontation with a man whose fiancee was drinking with Dingle, and he took her keys, and she tore the mailbox off his house, and, and, and.

The picture was of a stratum of society where alcohol use more closely resembles what goes on in a drug house. When I was pregnant I did a little reading about fetal alcohol syndrome, after reading a truly mind-blowing — and utterly irresponsible — passage in Newsweek magazine that said, “even a ‘hooray, we’re pregnant’ glass of champagne” can have a negative effect on a fetus. I’d read “The Broken Cord” a few years earlier, Michael Dorris’ heartbreaking memoir of trying to get help for his FAS-afflicted son, born on an Indian reservation. I was puzzled, then and now, why it took so long to diagnose the boy. Alcohol has been a part of human culture for so long, surely someone had noticed the link between women who drank heavily during pregnancy and the mentally retarded babies they gave birth to. Which led to me the “gin babies” of Victorian England, and gin in general during that era, which was a substance we’d recognize more readily as crack cocaine.

I’ve been around drinkers and drunks all my life, but few like the ones described in recent stories about the accident, or the father in “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio,” whose model was to come home with a bottle of Kessler’s and a six-pack, and sit at the kitchen table taking it like medicine, growing meaner by the minute. No tipsy cheer or social lubrication for these folks, just pound pound pound, and then oblivion.

The first thing they teach you about alcoholism is that booze is booze, and that even if you drink high-dollar stuff, or just beer, or just wine, or always among others and never alone, or never before 5, or whatever, you’re exactly the same as the guy who drinks hair spray. Maybe you’re better-dressed, or better-employed, but at the end, your poison is his poison. It just tastes a little better.

I keep imagining Frances Dingle’s life, the bouts of homelessness, the shattered relationships, the push-me-pull-you of cycling through rehab to drunk tank and back, the final decision to get into her huge van and push it to freeway speeds down a crowded thoroughfare. She hit the median strip at around 60, the cops estimate, which launched it airborne and into the little Chevy Cobalt full of kids. They didn’t have a chance. Doesn’t sound like anyone did.

[Pause. Claps hands together.] OK! Happy time now!

Via the Boston Globe’s excellent Big Picture blog, Scenes from a Recession.

A while ago Ruth Marcus was rooting for Caroline Kennedy to be a U.S. senator…just because. Because it would be sooo cool. Today? Leave AIG alone!

Gawker says the former leader of the free world got dissed with his book advance. What about the people who have to read it, eh? What about them?

My new standard of excellence is Five Lester Freamons. Thanks, NYMag!

Oop, almost time for Flex Appeal at the gym. Later, all.

Posted at 9:54 am in Current events, Detroit life |

56 responses to “Blackouts.”

  1. Jolene said on March 19, 2009 at 10:36 am

    The phrase that caught my eye in the story re Frances Dingle was “banging on the front and back doors with her walker”. God forbid that I should ever be both drunk and using a walker. Something about the multiple impairments strikes me as really pitiful.

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  2. Kirk said on March 19, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Maybe she uses it only when she’s frothing drunk.

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  3. jeff borden said on March 19, 2009 at 10:40 am

    The Holy Trinity of Conservatism –Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck– have all come out in favor of the AIG bonuses. El Rushbo was his usual elegant self, noting that the “peasants” were surrounding AIG with torches and pitchforks. The peasants. . .Otherwise known, I’d guess, as Limbaugh listeners.

    Perhaps one of our conservative visitors can explain to me the logic of Republican behavior over the past few months. Not long ago, led by the Senators from the Former Confederacy, the GOP seemed not only willing, but happy, to let the Big Three automakers die if they didn’t go onto the factory floor and start busting the union guys. Those odious contracts, we were told, were the real problem at GM, Chrysler and Ford. But now that we are talking about high six-figure wage earners, these same politicians lecture us about not breaking the contracts that guarantee these big bonuses.

    Quite honestly, the bonus payouts may be evidence of a tone deaf industry, but as others have pointed out, the bonuses are a pittance of the cash we are shoveling at AIG. In this, the bonuses resemble all the shrieking about earmarks, which while maddening are likewise a tiny part of the overall U.S. budget.

    But it’s interesting to see where the rightwing talkmeisters come down on the equation. As usual, it’s with the rich, the powerful, the establishment.

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  4. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 19, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Addiction is a beast, a wild ravening beast, and it paces steadily back and forth at the nearest margins of the light. You don’t have to go very far to get bit, and it takes a strong and swift team of friends to keep you from getting drug off into the brush. Too often, you drag others with you as you feel yourself scrabbling away into the night.

    Sounds like this lady has a long twilight ahead of her in prison, and i hope she really gets clean, and doesn’t just become a dry drunk sitting stoned in her cell on self-justification and rationalization, the most addictive substances of all.

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  5. Dave K. said on March 19, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Jeff, I am a grateful survivor who did indeed have “…a strong and swift team of friends…”, who were, and still are, essential to my recovery. Your description of the “beast”, and the phenomenon of a “dry drunk” are frighteningly accurate. Bill W. and Dr. Bob really nailed it in the “Big Book” when they described the disease as “cunning, baffling and powerful…”. That was 1936, and it is just as true today.

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  6. LA Mary said on March 19, 2009 at 11:24 am

    My father was an alcoholic who managed to keep things together for a pretty long time. When it killed him there were people at the funeral who claimed they never suspected he was drunk 24 hours a day. He was never physically mean, but verbally…yeah. I got a wave of very bad feeling just thinking about that. I remember one of my brothers standing up at the dinner table and telling my father to shut up. This brother is 6’4″ and at that time, pretty tough, and he could not take another minute of my father droning on and on. My brother told my father to leave me alone and shut the hell up. My father got up and left the room.
    When he died and we cleaned out the dresser drawers, I found my mother’s diary from the time she and my dad were dating. It was during prohibition. Nearly every page ended with something like, “We went to the Lafayette Club, and Garry got drunk.” I have the little lapel pin from the Lafayette Club, which I understand was a speakeasy.

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  7. Catherine said on March 19, 2009 at 11:37 am

    There is something so compelling to me in stories of addiction like The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (thought that’s about much more). One of the most poignant books ever is Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp. Roddy Doyle’s two books about his character Paula Spencer (The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, and Paula) have that wonderful Irish combination of humor and pathos. And I even found James Frey’s “memoir,” A Million Little Pieces, memorable. Maybe it is the sense, as Jeff says, that you don’t have to go very far away from the light to get bit.

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  8. Sue said on March 19, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Wisconsin leads the nation in binge drinking, high school drinkers and underage drinkers. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently did a series called “Wasted in Wisconsin” which included attempted contacts with all State representatives. My own rep, Don Pridemore, did not respond to the paper but here’s a portion of his response to the series, which appeared in his newsletter:
    “Does the legislation give Wisconsinites a big enough bang for the buck? Many bills that come before the legislature come with a fiscal note from our legislative council. The costs associated with enacting a law must be considered. Throwing more tax dollars at paying for increased incarceration costs to enact “feel good” legislation that will not reduce drunken driving must be avoided.”
    Of course they must, Don, and thanks for providing alternate ideas. Nothing worse than “feel good” legislation in response to Wisconsin having the worst drunk-driving rate in the country. 25% of the population surveyed reports driving under the influence. Very, very common around here to read about people getting picked up for their 5th, 6th, 7th dui. And every judge in the area runs on a “tough on crime” platform.
    What a culture.

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  9. Catherine said on March 19, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Sue, I know exactly what you mean. I’m probably oversimplifying, but what’s wrong with legalizing, taxing and enforcing? Legalize pot (as we’ve discussed here, it’s not as bad for you as booze) and what the heck, maybe a few other drugs. Remove the crime element, so less organized crime and drug enforcement officers are freed up. Tax the hell out it (sin tax, a very American tradition). Then use those tax dollars to enforce the legal prohibitions on behavior like drunk/stoned/high driving.

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  10. Sue said on March 19, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Catherine, I believe you just gave Rep. Pridemore a heart attack. You used the word “tax” (or a version) four times. Are you trying to kill him before a drunk driver does?

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  11. nancy said on March 19, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Sue is right about Wisconsin’s alcohol culture, which resembles Russia’s in its enthusiasm for blackout drinking. I think we’ve discussed it before, but there’s a UW branch at LaCrosse that has seen (last I heard) eight student deaths in a decade, all drownings in the Mississippi River. CourtTV thinks it’s a homicidal maniac, but the more reasonable answer is: No. They get drunk, the fall in the river, they drown.

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  12. Jolene said on March 19, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Catherine: A fairly new and, I’ve heard, very good literary treatment of addiction is The Night of the Smoking Gun by David Carr. You might want to check it out.

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  13. nancy said on March 19, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I kind of queered on addiction stories all at once. I read Knapp’s book, liked it, and a couple others, and finally I’d just had enough. A good writer describing the disease is not, ultimately, any more interesting than the AA big book, and a whole lot more opportunistic. I think what finally did it was talking to my friends who were raised in alcoholic families, one of whom skipped her book club discussion of “Charming Billy,” because “I find absolutely nothing interesting or compelling about reading, or discussing, drunks.” In other words: “Seen it? I lived it.”

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  14. brian stouder said on March 19, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Not for nothing, one notes that the terrible details of this crash come from a newspaper. How much would TV alone tell us? Pictures of the crash, ‘alcohol involved’, pictures of the grieving families of the young folks, and then some semi-somber segue to sports.

    The fullness of the newspaper, and the validation that such a real and comprehensive record of daily events offers is not replaced by the internet; or, putting it as Jeff (I think) did, what blogger is going to spend the shoe leather to tell stories such as this one the way they should be told, with all the small, crucial details?

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  15. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 19, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    If you read Susan Cheever’s bio of her father/memoir, “Home Before Dark,” and then her own personal story, more recently published, “Desire,” you get a grim sense of how addiction gets a grip on a family through generations, even as they all develop the most astounding coping and compensating skills.

    It is such hard WORK to be an addict. I’m blessed to be way too lazy to be an addict, or at least never learned the core competencies. I’d come apart at the seams the first month. But we train new folks in intervention services to respect the effort and creativity (and subterfuge) that go into maintaining a family through addiction. Actually, it’s rare that it comes out as awful as Ms. Dingle, at least on the surface; she must have just quit caring on some level, and the inertia just carried her right along until she crashed . . . but you do most of these folks an injustice to think they lack will or need direction. They’ve got both in full measure, just terribly, terribly twisted in angle, and all the crooked lines that hem them in look straight.

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  16. LA Mary said on March 19, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Charming Billy and Angela’s Ashes both had scenes much too close to home. My dry alcoholic neighbor could not bring himself to read either. I thought Charming Billy was really well written.

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  17. velvet goldmine said on March 19, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    My grandfather joined A.A. around the time my cousins and I were born, so we only knew him as sober and the backbone of the family. When he died in 2001, I inherited his Buick, and in the glove box I found his wallet. It had a handwritten bill from a grocer/package store from 1966 tucked into it (food bill on the left side of the invoice, booze on the right).

    Both the grocery and the liquor bills were overdue, and the owner had written “Please!!” on the bottom of the bill. I am sure that invoice somehow snapped him out of it — like a stark reminder that the left side of that bill was keeping him from paying for the right, and for all their other expenses. I can only speculate that’s why he carried that humiliating piece of paper around for decades; I do know that ’66 is the year he joined A.A., and consequently became not just the family savior, but the rescuer of countless people at A.A. over the years.

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  18. Sue said on March 19, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Angela’s Ashes gave me the willies, but it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Ok, it was in Ireland mostly and a long time ago, but I really identified with the combination of appalling alcoholic parental behavior and Catholic righteousness/cluelessness.
    LAMary’s comment regarding the family dinner got me thinking – raise your hands if you understand the OTHER meaning of “memorable family event”.

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  19. nancy said on March 19, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    You know, Sue, I had work to do today, and now this “Wasted in Wisconsin” thing has derailed me. I’m looking at a graphic about binge-drinking nationwide, and noting trends: Higher in states with long, cold winters, with interesting exceptions (Minnesota [Lutherans], Indiana [ditto]); North Dakota’s ranking has to be due to Indian country, although Arizona is way lower than I’d have guessed, and so is South Dakota; Utah is not as abstemious as West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky (!!!).

    It was a trend for a while in the ’80s for newspapers near Indian country to write about reservation alcoholism, and several did it very, very well, although it was some depressing journalism. Every well-meaning effort to curb or control it came to naught, it seemed, with only little victories allowed, all via AA. My favorite single piece, can’t recall the paper, was about an Italian-American family that had become tycoons, real tycoons, through operating liquor stores on rez borders. They were winemakers in the old country, connoisseurs of the craft, and still practiced it on a very small scale, while selling their private-recipe fortified wine to Indians in huge volume. There was a picture of the base ingredient being delivered to their mixing facility. In a tanker truck.

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  20. Danny said on March 19, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    “I find absolutely nothing interesting or compelling about reading, or discussing, drunks.” In other words: “Seen it? I lived it.”

    Yep, that’s about it for me too. I’m sure that a counseling professional like Jeff can gain needed insight by reading and discussing further, but it is not my core competency. These days, when I encounter addiction in my circles, it is rarely close enough to home where I would be the one to confront it direct. If someone needs help, I tend to keep my suggestions simple. Very simple.

    On a better note, HAPPY BIRTHDAY Brain! WooHoo! What’s the order of the day for you?

    Yesterday was mine and I’m taking a few days off to relax. Leisurely brunch yesterday, a walk with the wife at the beach and a look at a few multi-million dollar homes where we’ll never live.

    Last night was special. We went to our church to see Lost Boy: A Story of Redemption. This is the story of Greg Laurie’s life that focuses on his somewhat tragic upbringing and how this resulted in him becoming the evangelist that he is today. It kind of fits with today’s blog theme; addiction and violence and it’s effect on young Greg’s life. But what a hopeful story and some great views into the Jesus Movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s. There was a young man sitting in front of us who has struggled mightily over the years. He was in tears last night seeing parts of his own story in Greg’s.

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  21. Sue said on March 19, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Nancy, sorry I derailed you, even with that fantastic series. Let’s call it even – yesterday your posting unintentionally made me an unwilling but interested participant in the Natasha Richardson Death Watch.

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  22. brian stouder said on March 19, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Danny – work today; leaving a little early so as to make it to Indy for a 7pm book-talk (or whatever) by Laura Lippman – and then off work tomorrow.

    Last night, when the girls and I got back from the library (the fun-fun one downtown, not the evil and dreaded one at school!) a variety-cheesecake with a candle shaped like a ‘4’ and a chocolate cake with a candle shaped like an ‘8’ was awaiting us.

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  23. moe99 said on March 19, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Well, Nancy, your mention of Michael Dorris derailed me for a bit this am. I attended a presentation he gave back in the mid 90’s before all his family troubles and eventual suicide and looking him up on the internet this am was just so sad. I don’t know what to believe right now. Wiki says he lied about his native american heritage, but that’s contradicted elsewhere. Anyway, thanks, again to you for raising interesting issues that pulled me out of the daily rut.

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  24. moe99 said on March 19, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    added what I needed to my first comment. Cannot figure why it would not come up online. sorry for the duplication

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  25. del said on March 19, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    That Lost Boy video looks like an interesting story Danny.

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  26. 4dbirds said on March 19, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    May I come out of my self imposed comment exile to tell say how much your post hit home. In August of last year my 17 year old daughter was supposedly staying at a friend’s house but ended up at a ‘hotel’ party. This is where someone rents a room or two and scores of teenagers gathered to get drunk. My daughter who has many medical issues to begin with (a cancer survivor and diabetic) knows she cannot drink. Only a small amount of alcohol completely changes her personality and she becomes quite simply insane. At around 2am, she became very loud and hostile at the party and was asked to leave since the other teens were afraid her behavior would alert the hotel staff and guests. Someone gave her a ride home and for some reason she got out of the car at a major intersection. The person who gave her the ride drove off and left her. While attempting to cross the road or to flag a car down, my 90 pound daughter was hit by a car going 50 miles an hour.

    The driver told police, he looked up saw a figure in his headlight and tried to miss hitting her but was unsuccessful. He stopped, rendered whatever aid he could and called 911.

    She had no identification on her and my husband and I were asleep blissfully unaware that our daughter was fighting for her life at a trauma center. How the police tracked her down to us is a minor miracle.

    Months later, after several surgeries, infections (diabetics don’t heal very well), physical therapy and remedial schooling she still isn’t 100 percent back. Her head injury deemed ‘not that bad’ by the trauma staff still causes memory loss and confusion. She is however alive and I am so very happy for that. I wonder if the driver had driven off, not stopped and her brain left to bleed if our family would know exactly what Natasha Richardson’s family is feeling.

    Anyway, my post is mainly just to agree that I too hate the damage that alcohol can bring. I don’t have a villain such as a drunk driver to get mad at. Sometimes the person who is hit is the drunk. I want to slap my daughter silly for being stupid and hug her for being alive. I also want to hug that driver for stopping. ”

    My daughter has no memory at all for the weeks before and after the accident. Most of the above we pieced together from different sources, her friends, the police, the guy who hit her and witnesses who were driving by.

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  27. Sue said on March 19, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    First I thought “4dbirds! You’re back!” Then I read your comment. How awful. Welcome back and keep us posted.

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  28. Peter said on March 19, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    It’s just so sad reading those comments. But, I do need to post two comments:

    1. The police said they couldn’t arrest her because it’s not a crime to be drunk. Well, vandalism and threatening someone is a crime, and that busted mail box and dented doors should have counted for something.

    2. Jeff, I’m fiscally conservative, and all I can say about the GOP in the last three months is that they’ve gone off the deep end. There’s no justifying the AIG bonuses, agreement or not. I can’t get over the concept of paying someone a bonus when you LOSE money. And as for them being retention bonuses, WTF? So what if they left? The place is in the tank thanks to them; how much worse could it get?

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  29. Gasman said on March 19, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    As for the conservative support of the AIG bonuses, it supports my contention that conservatism blindly promotes hierarchical aristocracy. What other possible reason could there be for these rapacious “retention bonuses?”

    First of all, 11 of those who received these rewards were not retained; they left with the cash in hand. Therefore, these bonuses did not succeed. Second, aren’t bonuses paid for success? What “success” was being rewarded? So the bonuses fail on this account as well.

    This is precisely one of the main causes of this entire financial problem, executive compensation that is obscenely high and is not tied to performance. Such salaries and bonuses promote excessive risk and encourages execs to bailout at the earliest possible moment, that is, after they’ve sunk their company. If these folks at AIG knew that their salaries and bonuses were dependent upon AIG doing well as a company, would they have ever promoted the risky derivatives and credit default schemes?

    I’ve heard plenty of conservative advocacy for merit pay for teachers. Why should the execs at AIG not also be paid based upon the quality of the work that they performed?

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  30. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 19, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    4dbirds, greetings and i hope your road is getting a little less rocky and has regular pullouts and rest areas.

    There’s some dust getting thrown in the air, Peter, about hypocrisy and such on the bonus deal — i don’t care R or D, it’s the “how it got put in the bill” stuff that has my ire aroused. I’ll lazily just point you to my newspaper blog post on this yesterday, rather than get myself all riled again to have the proper tone to address the issue, which you
    can find here.

    Gasman, i think executive pay is insane, but have the usual conservative hesitance about solving that problem with legislation/regulation (and it’s not about hierarchical aristocracy, but unintended consequences that have my respectful attention). The bonuses are awful, but they can’t rationally be called thievery, since it’s their contract language, that says their “pay” is x but their “bonuses” are y — it sounds like they just shove the piles around, but they don’t seem to be bonuses as any reasonable person would think of a bonus. The recipients should be morally ashamed to receive them, but i’d hate to count on that conscience based approach to get results.

    That’s the question at hand, really, which is how do you restore sanity to executive pay? The “obvious” answer is to pass a law (sigh) that says the top exec can’t make more than, say, 26 times the pay of the lowest paid salaried worker. It doesn’t take much imagination to wonder how that would be gamed in the tally sheets that justified various pay packages.

    The best answer, i’d think, would be for boards to WAKE UP and do their dang jobs, and i think as many board members should get booted as CEOs for the last few years of stupidity. I’m on too dang many boards as it is (all non-profits tho’), and chair a hatful, and i know what we’re responsible for, and what we have to do if things go belly-up on us. What do corporate boards have to do in response to failure? There’s the point of accountability that i think modest regulation, rather than legal constraint, might get us the outcome we know is more sensible and more just.

    But it’s the “pass a law” part that worries me, mainly because i can’t figure out how else to do it. And i don’t wanna.

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  31. LA Mary said on March 19, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    4dbirds, you’ve got through the nightmare all parents experience when a teenager is late coming home, or isn’t where they said they would be. Welcome back and I hope things continue to improve.

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  32. Jolene said on March 19, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    “Retention bonus” is actually something of a misnomer in this instance. The bonuses were not simply for staying at AIG, but for staying until certain tasks were completed, i.e., until certain AIG deals/contracts/whatever were “wound down”. Thus, the fact that some people who got bonuses have left AIG doesn’t mean that the bonus program didn’t work; it means that they did the “winding down” that they’d been assigned and then left the firm.

    Libby explained this in his testimony yesterday, and it’s been in several news articles as well.

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  33. Sue said on March 19, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    This is a sort-of-transcript of an actual conversation I had with my daughter about three years ago:
    2 a.m.
    Hi. [She knew who it was, cell phone id]
    Hi. Where are you?
    Tina and me…
    Tina and I.
    Tina and I are driving to see Tina’s parents.
    [forced-calm voice] Tina’s parents are in FLORIDA.
    Yeah, we’re driving to see them.
    [forced-calm voice] Where are you?
    [No longer forced-calm voice] WHAT!
    No! We’re going to surprise them! Don’t call them!

    And so on. Upshot was multiple calls by both parents and agreement to find a motel. Idiots.

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  34. Jean S said on March 19, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    I wonder about that binge drinking graphic. Look at NM, way down the list, while every single road and byway there feature so many of those hand-made memorials….

    On the fetal alcohol syndrome angle, my mother (who retired from teaching 1st grade in 1970) taught across the hall from the “special ed” class during the ’50s and ’60s. That teacher was convinced, even back then, that many of her students were casualties of parental alcohol intake.

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  35. LA Mary said on March 19, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    I’ve had the mini version of that call:

    Me: where are you?
    Pete (age 15): Anthony’s house, down the street
    Me: really?
    Pete: yeah, why?
    Me: Anthony just called here looking for you.

    Pete then came home and stayed home for several days.

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  36. Jolene said on March 19, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    I’m listening to Barack Obama’s town hall meeting in LA. The first three questioners have begun by saying how glad they are that he is the prez. One thanked God for him.

    I find such expressions embarrassing, but it’s fun to think of old farts like John Kyl, who was razzing BO for going to CA earlier today, gritting their teeth as they listen to these encomiums.

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  37. LA Mary said on March 19, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    BO will be at NBC shortly, directly behind my office. I’m thinking there will be some heavy security when I try to get out of the parking structure later.

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  38. alex said on March 19, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    When I was in gradeschool in the ’70s, I had a classmate with fetal alcohol syndrome. She was actually average or above in mental functioning, as I recall, but was very small for her age and had some limb deformities and took a lot of crap for walking with a limp. I never knew exactly what her condition was until one day when the school had a program attended by all of the fourth- through sixth-graders and the girl and her adoptive mother explained what fetal alcohol syndrome is.

    I consider myself rather fortunate in that my mother was quite a drinker during her pregnancies and through most of my childhood. She seldom got up and made breakfast or saw us off to school because she was usually hung over and in a foul mood. On family vacations she used to keep a well-stocked bar in the front floor well of the car and slammed whiskey sours all day while chain-smoking Chesterfields.

    She quit smoking at 40 and moderated her drinking at some point after that and now enjoys pretty darned good health for a little old lady.

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  39. Catherine said on March 19, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    LAMary, I just got back from Burbank & the traffic was nuts! I was wondering if you even bothered to go to work, considering.

    Thanks to all for sharing your stories and book recommendations above. 4dbirds, may that be the worst thing you ever go through, and may your daughter’s health continue to improve. Memorable family event, indeed.

    Nancy, your comment about the 80s pieces on reservation alcoholism made me remember a photography book or exhibit from that time with the same theme. Absolutely chilling.

    And for Sue: tax, tax, tax, tax, tax!

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  40. moe99 said on March 19, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Jeff tmmo, I know you don’t want to pass a law, but we just spent 8 years without any financial laws, even if they were on the books, being enforced. And look where that got us. I think we have to go back to more government scrutiny and control because frankly the lack of it did not work. And there’s no one else to do the job.

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  41. LA Mary said on March 19, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    I had a couple of meetings today so I had to come in, prez or not. We also have a blood drive going on, and I had pledged a pint. Turns out I was too anemic, but I got my Baskin Robbins coupon anyway.

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  42. whitebeard said on March 19, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Jeff tmmo, there were regulations in place but the regulators were out to lunch with the crooks and liars (e.g. bankers, insurers, hedge fund operators and such lowlifes) and didn’t enforce anything.
    The bad folk, to quote a former president, are going to moan and groan about tougher Draconian regulations, but they brought it on themselves. Their addiction was money and heaps of it.
    On the boozing and drugs, the fetal alcohol syndrome, the waste of a life or lives, I know the pattern and it is horribly numbing and tragic for the caregivers.

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  43. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 19, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    The SEC problem, i hear on NPR, is that they had almost all lawyers and not enough mathematicians. The Madoff whistleblower who couldn’t get anyone to listen to him figured out in 4 minutes, 30 minutes to check his model, that the logic and numbers couldn’t add up, but he was a quant, trying to explain his case to a bunch of legal specialists, who couldn’t see a violation of law for the forest of fraud.

    That’s not to crack on lawyers, moe, just that we’re still figuring out how to regulate some stuff effectively. And if you have a legal model for how to control exec pay, i’m sincerely listening, but equally sincerely unsure that you can create a legal cap for private firm pay that works.

    Some shareholder lawsuits, though, not against the execs, but against the board — i’d pay money for a ticket to that testimony (which i’m sure would be boring as all get out in actual practice). But having boards know there’s a direct consequence for them in not adequately supervising the CEO . . . that’s the key. See Bill Bowen’s “The Board Book.” He wrote “The Shape of the River” with Derek Bok on race and college admissions — very smart, very public policy savvy guy.

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  44. Gasman said on March 20, 2009 at 12:22 am

    Jeff (tmmo),
    But there were people who were skeptical about Madoff back in 2001. I believe it was a Money magazine piece in which they openly said his numbers were too good to be true. Besides Madoff we had AIG, dead-man mortgages, and how many other risky financial “products” that financial professionals were all too happy to market. Too many folks who knew better thought that these “no risk” money making schemes could go on indefinitely. This seems an awful lot like 1929.

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  45. Dexter said on March 20, 2009 at 12:27 am

    It’s been very interesting reading these comments, as I come from a different angle to this: I am an alcoholic. I have over sixteen one-day-at-a-time sobriety years. I am the one who drove drunk, came home late, knocked over the Christmas tree, and kept on with the booze. One day I dumped my case of beer and two bottles of cheapo Night Train Express down the drain and shortly after was in AA , all the way. I took to it like the duck to water, probably later than I should have, but we all know about changing the past.
    Three weeks ago I found a full bottle of vodka in a cupboard , hidden by my daughter five years ago. Nobody wanted it…the seal was cracked…so I poured it down the same drain as my beer , 16 years before…no emotions, no grief, no wish-I-never-would-have-ever-drank feelings—nothing.
    I stay in touch with AA friends in Australia,Germany, all over Canada, Holland, and the USA.
    And in Wisconsin, a parent or any adult can take ANY kid into a bar and at the discretion of the bartender, have the bartender serve the kid alcohol.
    Yes it’s true.

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  46. Dexter said on March 20, 2009 at 2:11 am

    It’s said history repeats, but …damn! I have never seen this before…A.I.G. execs scared for their lives.

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  47. harrison said on March 20, 2009 at 2:47 am

    nancy, you said:

    Gawker says the former leader of the free world got dissed with his book advance. What about the people who have to read it, eh?

    having to read w’s memoirs sounds like cruel and unusual punishment.

    but i can think of a worse thing than that: reading those memoirs, then having to write a book report on them.

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  48. moe99 said on March 20, 2009 at 5:11 am

    As a former SEC attorney, I don’t think that was the case per NPR, Jeff Tmmo. To this day, I rely on my former SEC accountant, but now he’s in private practice and I hire him as an outside expert in some of my employer services cases to provide information to the court about whether the employer paid appropriate industrial insurance premiums.

    I, and the rest of the SEC enforcement attorneys at the Seattle office relied upon our accountants heavily in putting our cases together. The SEC had and has numerous very fine forensic accountants on staff.

    Just as the SEC top brass killed the investigation into W’s insider trading in Harkin Energy in 1989, before that investigation was ever finished (I was there at the time and heard of this from several DC enforcement attorneys involved), I am convinced that the same sort of ‘kill’ instructions came down from on high for numerous cases the SEC investigated during W’s 2 terms. It had served W so well when his father’s administration helped him out in 1989, I am sure W concluded that was how you did business.

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  49. beb said on March 20, 2009 at 7:59 am

    Jeff Bordon asked Perhaps one of our conservative visitors can explain to me the logic of Republican behavior over the past few months. Not long ago, led by the Senators from the Former Confederacy, the GOP seemed not only willing, but happy, to let the Big Three automakers die if they didn’t go onto the factory floor and start busting the union guys. Those odious contracts, we were told, were the real problem at GM, Chrysler and Ford. But now that we are talking about high six-figure wage earners, these same politicians lecture us about not breaking the contracts that guarantee these big bonuses.

    I’m not a Republican but I can explain it. The GOP hates unions, hates them with a passion. It’s not that unions drive up wages. it’s that unions interfere with the god-given rights of owners to treat their employees as slaves. The wage thing is a trivial red-flag sort of thing. Yes, unions drive up wages, only because owners try to keep wages at subsistance levels. And higher wages is one appeal unions make to non-union workers. So forcing the UAW to accept wage cuts to match the wages of non-union workers is a way to undermine the worth of the UAW.

    The people at AIG are not in a union therefore all this anti – union contract – breaking talk does not apply.

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  50. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 20, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Moe, i will, in fact, trust you over (well, alongside) NPR, although i’d trust a final word from Ira Glass even more.

    It looks like there was an element in the last five years of “emperor’s new dry cleaning” going on, where everyone had a sense of the precariousness of what they were doing and involved with, but had a “suicide pact by default” going on where it was assumed the first person to say out loud “wait, this isn’t actually going to turn out well” would be struck by Jove’s thunderbolts and barred from the Ocean Reef Club and sent to Costco to pick up coffee filters. That knowledge, that this was even less rational than the bubble VC flush, was pretty widespread, but no one wanted to talk about it (Jim Cramer’s sin, as pointed out by Mr. Stewart) or do anything about it (Bush admin sins of omission for sure, even if without sins of commission inferred above re: Harkin and following).

    Which is why our little county agency for homelessness and housing need shifted starting four years ago into financial literacy outreach with AmeriCorps, because we simply could not get anyone to talk sense about the housing situation in central and eastern Ohio. It was a quixotic fringy thing when our first class of AmeriCorps members went out in this county three years back, and now we’re in 20 counties and being begged to go statewide by elected officials (whose offices under the last adminsitration wouldn’t even answer our phone calls asking for letters of support, not even seeking cash or in-kind match).

    Dexter, congratulations for every day of those years. Sobriety is a hard choice; glad you’ve found it a worthwhile choice.

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  51. del said on March 20, 2009 at 9:13 am

    JTMMO, I’m waiting for an appeals court decision on a shareholder claim against a board of directors in a case that I argued in December. As for your stated hope that the “key” would be making board members aware of some consequence for their misdeeds, it’s a nice idea but not generally how it works. In the case I just argued, as in most such cases, the bylaws of the corporation are replete with board member indemnification provisions. And, there’s Officers and Directors liability insurance to boot. At the end of the day a board can pretty much do what it pleases and if it goofs its insurance policy and/or the corporation are there to pay.

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  52. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 20, 2009 at 9:43 am

    I’d settle for severe personal embarrassment actually, not a silly lawsuit. The boards of all these companies are not even getting mentioned in all the fallout — why is that? They have responsibilities that they failed on, utterly. So they aren’t personally liable, that’s basic incorporation stuff, gotta have it — but morally and PR wise, why aren’t they getting mikes shoved in their faces or subpoenas to hearings?

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  53. moe99 said on March 20, 2009 at 10:20 am

    a friend of mine who is a foreign currency trader for Wells Fargo sent me the following:

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  54. del said on March 20, 2009 at 10:44 am

    moe 99 and JTMMO — after reading moe’s article and considering JTMMO’s upthread comments about his skepticism about regulation and “unintended consequences” my thought is this — just fix the tax code. Reenact higher marginal tax rates (Eisenhower era, per Jeff Borden?)? Remember, the good old days when people believed they had an obligation to their communities and countrymen?

    Let the wingnuts bloviate on about the destruction of ambition, the ruination of incentive, and, of course, the greatest hyperbole of all, class warfare. It’s just bullshit and they know it.

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  55. Gasman said on March 20, 2009 at 11:30 am

    I agree with Michael Lewis when he says that we should be more concerned about the remainder of the $170 billion that is not going toward bonuses at AIG. However, some of the rhetoric that I have heard and read concerning the “contractual obligation” to pay these bonuses sounds suspiciously bullshitty. Way too many folks in this administration, W’s administration, and Congress are incredibly quick to genuflect at the merest mention of contracts for millionaires.

    The UAW workers had contracts as well. These contracts were just as valid – maybe more so – and were no less subject to litigation than the AIG execs. contracts. Additionally, the UAW contracts represented many more workers and a much bigger hit to the economy than those from AIG. However, I didn’t hear many in Washington wringing their hands over potential litigation that might arise from not honoring UAW contracts.

    I still have doubts that there was any legitimate legal obligation to pay the AIG bonuses in question. Former AIG chief Hank Greenberg has stated that the “retention bonuses” were not of his creation, and that when bonuses were given, they were tied to performance. Either he or his successor Liddy is lying. Either way, this notion that these bonuses are so sacrosanct that we couldn’t possibly, even for a moment, conceive of not honoring them, doesn’t pass the smell test. There’s much more to this story.

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  56. Rana said on March 20, 2009 at 11:56 am

    harrison said but i can think of a worse thing than that: reading those memoirs, then having to write a book report on them.

    I can think of a worst thing yet – being the poor sod who has to ghostwrite the darn thing.

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