Into the Wormhole with Goodnight Moon

Amazon.com’s “#1 Bestseller in Children’s Rabbit Books” (I did not make that up)

What do parents think about when they’re reading Goodnight Moon for the millionth time? If you’re awake enough to be alert, you might consider Freudian implications of the story (as a professor I once TA’d for used to do to a packed lecture hall). Or if you’re a data-driven sleuth, like the proprietor of the website Burrito Justice, you interrogate the space-time implications of the book.

Maybe the bunny and the old lady are actually in a space elevator, getting closer to the moon as he gets into bed? Or as suggested by @transitmaps, the bunny can bend space and time? I do not have a good answer to this conundrum, but that is what the comments are for.

After performing more calculations, a shocking conclusion is reached: Continue reading

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Who’s Cheating America: Tammy, Orlando & Braun

Uh-oh. Another lawyer in trouble.

A partner with Houston-based law firm Orlando & Braun LLP has been arrested on charges that he committed bankruptcy fraud by failing to disclose a conflict of interest in a Chapter 11 case, Texas authorities said Wednesday.

Hey, I get it. Lawyers like Calvin C. Braun, who’s been practicing for 16 years, have a lot of different clients in a lot of different matters. It can be hard to keep track of them all. So what happened exactly? Continue reading

A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #2 – The Spy Drop

I was five but remember it like yesterday. How my big sister and I were in our driveway, riding her new Kick-N-Go, and the cool kid who lived up the street came racing toward us on his bike. He had never come to play with us before; I thought maybe he was planning to ask for a ride on the exciting new Kick-N-Go, the first in our neighborhood. Good lord, that thing was cool. Self-propelled, with a handbrake. Just look at these beauties:

The only reason they’re not around now is that they’re a terrible product that are impossible to ride well, but we didn’t know that then. We just figured we were kids who hadn’t figured it out yet.

That’s the thing about being a kid. You’ve got a lot of figuring out to do.

So in rode Joel, the cool kid from up the street. It was a thrill: he was a year older than me and had sideburns and a stepbrother in high school who lived in a room over their garage. Big stuff for me at that time, who was mostly stuck with my sister and her friends. I worshiped my sister, and her friends were mostly nice to me, but it wasn’t the same. Joel could beat kids up, except he was too cool to ever need to. He reminded me of a Hardy Boy:

 

No, he was cooler than that and rode alone. More like this guy: Continue reading

Borges on Fiction and Philosophy

Image Credit: guardia.co.uk

Borges on fiction and philosophy? You could devote an entire blog just to this subject, of course. But for today, I’ll focus on this interview from 1976, which is full of gems.

Interviewer: Can a narrative, especially a short narrative, be rigorous in a philosophical sense?

Borges: I suppose it could be. Of course, in that case it would be a parable. I remember when I read a biography of Oscar Wilde by Hesketh Pearson. Then there was a long discussion going on about predestination and free will. And he asked Wilde what he made of free will. Then he answered in a story. The story seemed somewhat irrelevant, but it wasn’t. He said – yes, yes, yes, some nails, pins, and needles lived in the neighborhood of a magnet, and one of them said, ‘I think we should pay a visit to the magnet.’ And the other said, ‘I think it is our duty to visit the magnet.’ The other said, ‘This must be done right now. No delay can be allowed.’ Then when they were saying those things, without being aware of it, they were all rushing towards the magnet, who smiled because he knew that they were coming to visit him. You can imagine a magnet smiling. You see, there Wilde gave his opinion, and his opinion was that we think we are free agents, but of course we’re not.

Borges’ spoken words are a lot like his writing: concise, dreamy, and packed with ideas.

Interviewer: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is a good example of one of your stories where, however the story ends, the reader is encouraged to continue applying your ideas.

Borges: Well, I hope so. But I wonder if they are my ideas. Because really I am not a thinker. I have used the philosophers’ ideas for my own private literary purposes, but I don’t think that I’m a thinker. I suppose that my thinking has been done for me by Berkeley, by Hume, by Schopenhauer, by Mauthner perhaps.

Interviewer: You say you’re not a thinker –

Borges: No, what I mean to say is that I have no personal system of philosophy. I never attempt to do that. I am merely a man of letters. In the same way, for example that – well, of course, I shouldn’t perhaps choose this as an example – in the same way that Dante used theology for the purpose of poetry, or Milton used theology for the purposes of his poetry, why shouldn’t I use philosophy, especially idealistic philosophy –  philosophy to which I was attracted – for the purposes of writing a tale, of writing a story? I suppose that is allowable, no?

Borges is so good, and so obviously profound, that it would be easy for him to be grandiose. But his humility – which I think comes from both his sincere appreciation for the many thinkers who came before him and his astonishment at the mysteries of life and the universe – always shines through. The interviewers, who are philosophers comfortable with their status as great arbiters of profundity, try to draw him into their world, and if he doesn’t quite bite, he does at least nibble at the bait…

Interviewer: You share one thing certainly with philosophers, and that is a fascination with perplexity, with paradox.

Borges: Oh yes, of course – well I suppose philosophy springs from our perplexity. If you’ve read what I may be allowed to call “my works” – if you’ve read my sketches, whatever they are – you’d find that there is a very obvious symbol of perplexity to be found all the time, and that is the maze. I find that a very obvious symbol of perplexity. A maze and amazement go together, no? A symbol of amazement would be the maze.

But he’s quick to add something else, which so good it makes me want to pick up the pen:

But I would like to make it clear that if any ideas are to be found in what I write, those ideas came after the writing. I mean, I began by the writing, I began by the story, I began with the dream, if you want to call it that. And then afterwards, perhaps, some idea came of it. But I didn’t begin, as I say, by the moral and then writing a fable to prove it.

Another dreamer (in a very different context) would, I think, approve…

Who’s Cheating America: A Matter of Integrity

Artistic reenactment:

Attorney: Hi there. I’m Chris Linton from Birmingham, Alabama. I’m an attorney, but don’t hold that against me.

Investor: Hello. What can I do you for?

Attorney: Hahahahaha, good one. [Gets serious.] Look, I’ve got a great new business going and the sky’s the limit. How would you like to get in on the ground floor?

Investor: I don’t know…you look a little young…

Attorney: I’m thirty-four years old!

Investor: That’s all?

Attorney: That’s enough! Look, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m setting up what’s called a factoring business. Lawyers who work for the state will submit vouchers to me so they can get paid quickly. I then get the money from the state for the work they performed.

Investor: How do you make money on that?

Attorney: I receive a cut of the money.

Investor: How much money?

Attorney: Enough to pay for my home, construction projects at the residence, private jet flights, vacations, recreational vehicles, furniture, luxury items, Auburn University football tickets and a donation to the Heisman Trophy Trust. All without committing wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, securities fraud, or bank fraud. it’s win-win-win-win-win-win-win.

Investor: That sounds like a lot…are you sure that’s all from your business?

Attorney: Mostly from my business.

Investor: Mostly?

Attorney: Some might be from investments in my business. I occasionally dip into the fund. Here and there. Make ends meet. Keep the lights on. You know how it is.

Investor: Investments? You mean from people like me?

Attorney: Sure. But you don’t need to worry. My business is called Integrity Capital.

Investor: Oh! Why didn’t you say that in the first place? [reaches for wallet]

Attorney: Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Investor: [writing check] It sure does.

Cut to: exposure, scandal, arrest, guilty plea, and a former attorney now facing up to 65 years in prison. Argh! Live up to your name, Integrity Capital! Stop cheating America!

Oh the irony… first “London Associates” and now this…the irony, the irony…

Previous entries in our Who’s Cheating America? series:

Small Press Shout-Out: Luath Press!

 

Our globetrotting search for good people putting out good books continues! Last week we journeyed to Australia for a visit to the kindhearted and energetic Pantera Press. Up this week: the land of mountains high-cover’d with snow, straths and green vallies, forests and wild-hanging woods, torrents and loud-pouring floods…that’s right! We’re going to visit the Land of Rabbie Burns… Continue reading

Awaking to Find You’re a Monstrous Vermin (The Promotion Excerpt #6)

In Which the Narrator Tiptoes into the World of the Mysterious Mina Meinl

Even now it gives me chills to think of that moment when I heard the name for the first time. The way the words sounded, coming through those teeth. It was a name at the heart of the strangest experience of my life. And yet it sounded so foreign to me—I, who was then so innocent—that I initially thought it was the name of a corporate entity. Mina-Meinl. A company that made industrial machinery, perhaps. An investment vehicle that shipped grain out of the Ukraine. Not a person. Not a woman. Not someone I would ever, ever meet.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Not a what but a who,” Linn explained. “An investor of some kind.”

She explained what was known. During the exam, the accountants had discovered that this woman, Mina Meinl, had been offered co-invest opportunities on all the investments for all of the funds.

I was familiar with the concept of co-invest. Fortinbras Capital Management spent a ton of money looking for good investments—a hotel chain in Abu Dhabi, say, or an office park in Kuala Lumpur, or a string of mines in South Africa. After the Fortinbras funds had invested as much as they wanted, Fortinbras would open up investment to other investors as well.

Sometimes these opportunities were used as favors—a sweetener to get a prospective investor into one of the large funds. All this was fully disclosed, of course, and consistent with their fiduciary obligations. Nevertheless the SEC examined co-invest carefully. The first thing the SEC staff looked for was people who had gotten more than their fair share. According to Linn, the odd thing about Mina Meinl was not how much she got but how little.

“Five million in co-invest blends in,” she said. “Fifty thousand stands out.”

“Who is she?”

“Nobody knows.”

“How did this happen?”

Linn shrugged.

My internal investigation antennae were twitching. I specialized in this! I casually said that it sounded like they could use my services.

“Maybe I should call Darrin?” I suggested, referring to the general counsel of Fortinbras.

Linn shook her head. “No need. They decided it’s not material. The SEC didn’t notice it, and the next exam won’t be for a couple of years.”

“Aren’t they trying to figure it out?”

Linn said she didn’t know. She suspected that Darrin had other problems to deal with.

“Mina Meinl,” I said. Saying the name out loud gave me goosebumps.

“The great mystery,” Linn said.

We had to talk about recruiting. I made a few general remarks about process and goals, and she nodded as she checked the messages on her phone, but in fact my mind was just as preoccupied as hers.

A lot had changed. I had a new set of responsibilities, giving me a sense of purpose. We would be hiring a lot of new people, which was a large commitment of resources. And for the people we’d be hiring, it would be life-changing. It was important to make sure the new hires fit in our culture and wanted to do what we had in mind for them. The entire firm depended on its people, and I would be a major contributing factor to the future of the firm.

Looking back, I can see that something else was already growing in me. A seed had been planted and had already taken root. Soon it would sprawl across my mind like fast-growing kudzu, dominating all other foliage with its tangled, smothering vines.

Mina Meinl. The great mystery indeed.

Next: In Which the Narrator Begins to Realize His Deputy Could Destroy His Life-Changing Plans

Need to catch up? Check out Excerpt #5: In Which the Narrator Hears the Name That Will Forever Alter His Future. Or start at the beginning.

Can’t wait to read the whole thing? A full version of The Promotion is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions.