Sunday, April 12, 2009

New Websites For Me and For the Ferrets

Nowadays it seems you can get free web hosting and a free domain without annoying ads. How did I miss out on that up until now? See what I get for not paying attention to such things!

Anyway... my personal website now has its own domain and has been separated from other stuff that isn't me. It still looks archaic, like the 1990s design that it is. The content sorely needs updating as well. All of the will happen as time permits so you can visit now and again and watch me struggle through web design until I get something that's worthwhile :)

The new website is at

I've also decided that my pet ferrets rate their own website. Considering the impact they have on my budget (recent vet bills for Chin Soon, especially) I obviously place a high value on the little weasels. If you aren't a pet owner you probably won't understand and think that this is all insanity. You may be right but it is an insanity that responsible pet owners all share. Our pets become like four legged family members.

The ferrets' website is at

There is a good, sane reason for splitting the site into two or three pieces. More bandwidth. Free hosts have bandwidth limitations. OK, I probably will never reach them but you never know. I also get more gigs of storage I'll probably never use up.

So... feel free to visit.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

President Obama Hosting Passover Seder

NOTE: This is a rare cross post from my Zionism & Aliya blog.

Barack Obama will become the first American President ever to host a Passover seder at the White House.

While the story has received minimal mainstream media coverage here in the U.S. it was much bigger news in the Jewish and Israeli press. The historical significance was not lost on The Jerusalem Post:
'I'm really happy to hear about it,' said Steve Rabinowitz, who once led a staff Seder in the Clinton White House but didn't know of any White House Seder in which the president had personally taken part before now. 'It's been an extremely open White House to all faith communities, certainly including ours.'

William Daroff, who runs the United Jewish Communities' Washington office, recalled that former president Franklin D. Roosevelt snuck out the back door of the White House in 1943 to avoid seeing rabbis marching out front to demand US action to save European Jews from the Nazis.

'Sixty-six years later the President of the United States is spending Thursday evening with his friends and family celebrating the liberation and survival of the Jewish people,' Daroff noted, calling the event 'a testament to how far we have come as a Jewish people in America.'

In a bit of irony former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) chose today to declare that the Obama administration is "anti-religious". He was referring to the appointment of Harry Knox, a former Methodist minister and an outspoken gay rights advocate to the White House advisory council on faith-based initiatives. Apparently Mr. Gingrich believes anything other than right-wing evangelical Christianity isn't worthy of consideration as a religion. There are any number of liberal and tolerant Christian denominations. Reform Judaism is openly supportive of gay rights as are many in the Conservative (Masorti) movement.

I'm often asked why Jews tend to vote Democratic by conservative friends who see liberals as insufficiently supportive of Israel. While many European leaders were issuing warnings and thinly veiled threats to the new Israeli government even before Prime Minister Netanyahu officially took office President Obama chose that day to declare America's "unwavering support" for Israel. Support for Israel among Democratic leaders is not lacking.

Many right-wing Republicans, on the other hand, are very tied to Christian fundamentalism. Mr. Gingrich also accused President Obama of being "intensely secular". As a Jewish woman and a member of a religious minority in this country I am more comfortable with a secular government than an intolerant fundamentalist Christian one. My mainstream Jewish values are very different than those of the American Christian religious right.

I, for one, am grateful to President Obama's support for Israel even if I have some reservations about specific elements of his foreign policy. I think Mr. Gingrich's comments on the day before the President is taking part in a truly historic Jewish religious observance illustrate very well why I can't support his views.

To President Obama, and to all my readers:

Hag Sameach! Happy Passover!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg's Testimony Doesn't Pass The Smell Test

There's an odor that's more than a little rotten around former AIG CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg's congressional testimony. Mr. Greenberg stated that his leadership team had "nothing to do" with the company's failures. He added, "When I left the company, it was a healthy company.” Really?

In the fall of 2004 I interviewed for a position with American Financial Group. Here is what Mr. Greenberg has to say about AFG at the time and what the MSNBC article has to say about their business:
“AIG’s business model did not fail; its management did,” Greenberg said. He went on to criticize their handling of the financial products division, which he said “functioned quite well” under his leadership.

That division wrote the notorious credit-default swaps that have forced the company to pay more than $50 billion to U.S. and foreign banks.

AFG was the division now blamed for the catastrophic losses and near failure of the company that led to the huge government bailouts. According to Mr.Greenberg all was well in March, 2005 when he left and all the problems came later. Funny, that isn't what I remember.

The AFG position required me to move to Cincinnati, something I had doubts about doing particularly for a contract position. The job was a 90 day contract-to-hire position and the interviewers did all they could to reassure me that the permanent position was mine so long as I did a good job for them. I was repeatedly told that AIG has never had any layoffs during the company's 176 year history. That was a major selling point and it helped crystallize my decision to join AFG.

Fast forward three months after I moved to Cincinnati and started on the job. My manager informed me that my contract was going to be extended. Bringing me on board permanently was delayed, I was told, by internal politics. They wanted to keep me as a contractor until the issues could be resolved and then I could be hired permanently. I had all the normal benefits including health insurance through the consulting firm I was working for so I had no problem with this and I continued as a contractor.

In March, 2005, the same month Mr. Greenberg left AIG, the first layoffs in the company's history were announced. There were reports of financial troubles and losses even then. Someone from another group which was being closed, an AIG employee, was going to fill my spot as a Linux/UNIX Systems Administrator. I was told I would not be hired after all. This was after I had moved to and lived in Cincinnati for five months. The consulting firm I was working for placed me with Red Hat so things worked out OK for me, but... AIG was strong and profitable in March, 2005 according to Mr. Greenberg. If so, why the layoffs? Why the reported losses and financial problems at the time?

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has his own doubts about Mr. Greenberg's testimony:
"I'm convinced that the systemic problems at AIG go far deeper than mistakes made in the four years since you left the company," Cummings said. "What you failed to mention was that a good portion of those risky (bets) were written" before Greenberg's 2005 departure.

Cummings asked multiple times how many of the credit-default swaps were written while Greenberg was in charge.

"The amount we wrote was for European banks," Greenberg replied. "As far as I know, there was never a loss on any of that."

Hmmm... I certainly had no access to AFG's books or to the particulars about the financial problems that raised alarm bells and forced layoffs in March, 2005 so I can't say if Mr. Greenberg was truthful in his response or not. I, like Rep. Cummings, have my doubts. "As far as I know..." is a hole you can drive a Mack truck through. Those are the kind of weasel words that guarantee that Mr. Greenberg isn't lying or perjuring himself even if his account isn't exactly accurate.

As I've already noted I have and had no access to the company's finances now or then. I do know for a fact that things weren't nearly as rosy as the picture that Mr. Greenberg paints.