Month: September 2022

Keeping At It -Book Review

A Memoir

Keeping At It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government is Paul A. Volcker’s memoir produced with the aid of Christine Harper. Written in first person, it is hard to discern the diligent work of Ms. Harper. And it is obvious that the content is a testament to the stewardship of Mr. Volcker.

As an undergraduate economics student during Volker’s stint at the head of the Federal Reserve, I was familiar with his work. And an admirer. The book was published in 2018 and I regret so much time passed before I crossed it off the to be read list. The memoir is important both as an historic account and as a forewarning.

Early Years

A timeline of Volcker’s life is followed by a chapter on his youth and then one on the college experience. And a third on his early career. These chapters give insight on events that shaped the dedicated public servant. They also introduce the first bit of history as the United States still followed the gold standard. And how that changed.

Personally, I found these chapters intriguing. Perhaps because Paul Volcker was already established as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve when he first appeared on my radar. I was impressed by his early years. It is easy to see how the persistence, the keeping at it, evolved from his upbringing.

Public Service Begins

After the introduction and back story, the memoir dives into the thick of things. Public service at agencies in both New York City and Washington, D.C. bouncing between the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury. The tone of the writing changes from background information to economic substance. These middle chapters benefit by a reader’s knowledge, background, and interest in economics. Furthermore, an understanding of monetary policy is also useful.

Volcker began his Washington, D.C. service under President Kennedy and served presidents representing both political parties through the tenure of President Obama. His non-governmental ventures centered on financial management. But what he is most remembered for is his ending of stagflation while serving as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve from his appointment under President Carter in 1979 to the end of his second term in 1987 under President Reagan.

These chapters give a glimpse at how partisan politics can hamper decision making. Keeping at it until inflation was controlled needed a tightrope act, balancing among the political personalities. Volcker succeeded against the odds.

Keeping At It- A Forewarning

Perhaps the most important part of the memoir, Keeping At It, is the message of ethics. And the importance of good government. Volcker witnessed multiple market failures and policy failures. Yet, to this reader, his greatest concern seems to have surfaced in the last years of his life. He talks in general terms, but the implication is quite clear. There is danger in the current anti-government populism.

His legacy, The Volcker Alliance, remains in place. The task is to promote good governance. The two current initiatives involve Diversity in Government and Truth and Integrity in Government. More can be discovered by visiting the website The Volcker Alliance .

Recommendation for Keeping At It

Paul Volcker’s memoir needs a discerning audience. It is not an easy read. But I think it is an essential book for anyone interested in finance, governmental service and ethics in management. Historians will find the details accurate and of interest. I can easily see the memoir included in a graduate economics or finance course.

Keeping At It is a valuable insight into the thoughts of one of (if not the best) economic minds of my lifetime. One can only hope the current Fed Chairman has read the content for once again we are at the beginning of a financial crisis.

(Note: This post was penned September 20, 2022. It is obvious from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s address on September 21, 2022, that he has indeed read the memoir as he stated, “My main message has not changed since Jackson Hole. The FOMC is strongly resolved to bring inflation down to 2%, and we will keep at it until the job is done.”)

Jammed Vertical Spice Drawer- A Simple Fix with Recycled Items

Recently the vertical spice drawer at the mountain writing retreat jammed. Very frustrating when you use spices as much as I do. And very difficult to fix since the drawer is a self-contained unit. Unlike horizontal drawers, there is no access from above or below. Or, from the side. Somehow a spice container had fallen and blocked the drawer from sliding.

Multiple Attempts

Over a period of several days, I attempted to fix the jammed vertical spice drawer. First, I tried wiggling the drawer from side to side. No luck. Then, I used a plastic spatula. The kind for flipping hamburgers not scraping out cake mix, but again, no luck. The spatula was just too short to make a difference.

Multiple days of this proved trying the same thing over and over consistently yields the same outcome, in this case failure. So, I made a trip to a big box hardware store in a neighboring town. The thought was to find a flexible piece of very thin metal. I found two candidates in the hardware aisle. To be honest I have no idea of their “real” purpose. But both were inexpensive and worth a try.

Jammed Vertical Spice Drawer- The Fix

Once back in the kitchen a new dilemma surfaced. I do not own this home and do not want to damage the gorgeous custom cabinetry. That includes scratches! So, I decided to wrap the metal pieces with a paper bag. This kept the metal from scratching but neither piece worked. One piece was too pliable and the other not pliable enough. Definitely a Goldilocks experience.

But the paper bags triggered an aha moment. I folded one in half, vertically, and was able to slide it in more than the three inches the spatula had yielded. So, then I slid the bag up and down the right side. No blockage.

I left the first bag on the right side and folded a second bag and checked the left side. The bag jammed down at the bottom on the lower left. But the bag was not stiff enough to move whichever spice jar had fallen and jammed. So, I used the second bag to create a space at the bottom of the drawer and began searching for a piece of cardboard.

Recycling Saves the Day

Digging through the recycling bin, I found the perfect item. Not as thick as regular cardboard, but stiffer than cardstock, the ideal candidate was the backing from the packaging of a new vegetable scraper. With the two paper bags holding the jammed vertical spice drawer in place, I was able to use both hands to work the package backing up and down at the bottom edge.

Finally, the item jamming the drawer moved and the vertical spice drawer popped open. And many items tumbled out. The most likely candidates for troublemaking spices were bottles of extracts and small boxes of herbs. Similar items have been removed from the cabinet. No need to repeat the disaster!

I am thankful the jammed item was toward the front of the drawer as I did not have a two-foot-long piece of recycled card to use. A key take-away is to not overfill one of these spice cabinets. Furthermore, extract bottles and paper spice holders should be stored elsewhere. If you ever get a stuck vertical drawer of any kind, try this troubleshooting technique.

 

Jammed Vertical Spice Drawer

Use the folded bags to keep drawer in position.
Likely Culprits
Vertical Spice Drawer
Vertical Spice Drawer Functioning Once Again

Exploring Downtown Austin, Texas

First Visit

A quick trip to Austin, Texas created a desire to return. The stay in the downtown area contrasted greatly with many other cities. In addition to friendliness, the streets were clean, and many families were out and about. Furthermore, bike and running paths and various self-propelled watercraft provided opportunity for healthy living. High tech is also evident as we ran into a REV-1 robot in test mode. Certainly, eye-opening for a small-town resident like me.

Robot on the Move-Austin, Texas

State Capitol

Visiting the Texas State Capitol was an easy walk across the Congress Avenue Bridge.  An early start to avoid any heat and humidity so often encountered as the day heats up allowed time to stroll around the grounds before the building opened for tours. This provided an opportunity to wander around the many monuments and soak in the history.

Highlights include the Tejano Monument, Texas African American History Monument, Southern Confederacy Monument (I believe in keeping evidence of past mistakes, especially horrendous ones so that we don’t forget and then repeat.) A monument to the firefighters lost in the Dumas-Sunray refinery accident is also on the grounds. The accident occurred before my time, but old-timers on the High Plains still remember. Finally, just outside the entrance to the Capitol is a drinking fountain in active use since the 1880s. A reminder of how much has changed through time.

Inside the Capitol Building

The line to enter the Capitol right at the opening was fairly short and the wait was about 5 minutes allowing us to join the first tour group. The rotunda buzzed with activity. TV stations covered a civilized protest re: banning of books. A group of teenagers comprised one tour group and several families opted to tour on their own versus with a guide.

Our guide was very informative. History lessons are most interesting when exploring. The State Capitol of Texas endured two fires about a century apart. The latter fire occurred in 1983. As a result, a four- story underground addition was built with the completion in the late 1990s. This massive space is so well lit, including natural light from skylights, that visitors will not realize they are underground.

The tour included a stop in a legislative chamber and discussion of beautiful historic artwork. Furthermore, the building materials, design and even light fixtures all emphasize the legacy of Texas. Legislation passed in the 1980s keep sightlines to the Capitol building open. A beacon shining. One hopes many will be drawn to enter and explore.

Eateries Abound Downtown

Food is incredible in Austin! Our first experience-lunch at True Food Kitchen. This hip location on the Capitol side of the Colorado River provided great meals for both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Their kale salads were phenomenal. Enough for me to want to plant a winter crop. Paninis and burgers were also enjoyed. The service was good, and the restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating. I highly recommend.

My favorite evening meal took place at Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar. This popular eatery may require reservations and/or patience to be seated. We were fortunate and were able to get a table promptly, but the line was long upon exiting. Again, both indoor and outdoor seating is available.

Oyster lovers have a varied choice-yes oysters are not all the same. The group I was with had a tasting of four varieties. Additionally, the summer melon & Buratta appetizer was delicious and large enough to share. Various seafood comprised the main courses. I found the brioche-crusted halibut much to my liking. For non-seafood eaters, steaks can be ordered. A caveat, the restaurant is a bit pricy, but worth every penny for a special night out.

Austin Shopping

Shopping in downtown Austin is enjoyable. Plenty of places to stop and shop as well as a plethora of sights to take in. We shopped on both sides of the Congress Avenue Bridge. “True” downtown is located on the Capitol side of the bridge. Many of these stores have been operated by generations of the same family. Plus, the architecture is more historic. And the street art is cool.

The other side of the bridge is a bit trendier. In addition to numerous restaurants including the aforementioned Perla’s, block after block of boutiques and designer chains draw many pedestrians to the area. Shoppers were abundant despite the many signs of inflation.

Outdoor Activities in Downtown Austin

One of the nicest features in Austin centers around Lady Bird Lake AKA Town Lake. A ten-mile path around the reservoir incorporating the Colorado River is heavily used by bikers, runners and walkers. The path is very well maintained and very shady-important for those hot summer days.

Additionally, many non-motorized watercrafts were spotted. Everything from crews sculling their shells to kayaks and paddle boards. A few fishermen were present as well. Boats can be rented at dusk in order to view the bats leaving their roosts under the famed Congress Avenue Bridge.

Congress Avenue Bridge

Officially named the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, this almost 1000-foot-long bridge became the center of my trip to Austin. I crossed the bridge on foot multiple times, ate a nice lunch from the second floor of a hotel overlooking the structure and walked beneath during the day. But the best view was at dusk as the bats were leaving their roosts.

Long ago, I watched the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns. More than forty years later it is hard to compare the two viewings of mass bats. Especially, since the Congress Avenue roost is in such an urban setting. On this occasion I was close enough to hear individual bats squeaking as they twisted and turned seeking airborne food. Truly a highlight of the visit and one worth fitting into any trip to downtown Austin.

Future Austin Visits

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Austin. Even the heat and humidity did not detract-although I will admit to enjoying the mornings and evenings the most. Perhaps I can return for one of their many outdoor music festivals. Since visiting, I now understand why so many people are moving to the area. If you have never been to Austin, be sure to put it on your travel agenda. I certainly enjoyed my first ever visit.

Enjoy the Austin Highlights