Thursday, October 27, 2011

Serendipity - Graveyard Encounter

There was a persistent, yet light, drizzle as I pulled our car to the side of the road, near the entrance to Woodlawn Cemetery in the quaint northwestern Maine village of Andover.  We'd been doing a lot of what I had come to call cemetery crawling lately, and it seemed as though each time we either brought some degree of rain or there had been enough precipitation just prior to our arrival to sufficiently wet the often untrimmed grass.

We had been on a quest to find long departed relatives, usually with only word-of-mouth guidance from the living; age, unfortunately, can sometimes blur the memory and city or town names aren't always accurate, resulting in false leads and wild goose-chases.  But this one stop in the town that was the birthplace of my departed mother was a sure bet for finding her and my ancestors.

(Note: at another time I'll explain something about birthplaces and records of birth.  It will serve as a word of caution to ancestral researchers.)

Woodlawn Cemetery, Andover, Maine

My wife and I emerged from the car and proceeded toward the main entrance to the fairly large cemetery.  At the entrance were a woman I presumed was maybe my wife's age, and a younger woman, who I later discovered was her daughter.  They had been planting some annuals near the gate and stood and turned in our direction as we approached.

"Can I help you?" the older of the two asked as we got near.

"Well," I began hesitantly, somewhat cautious as to what information I was willing to share, "I'm looking for Wymans and Akers families."

"I'm an Akers," the replied.

Maybe it's just me, but I never expected to find a living relative in a graveyard in a never visited community.  But there we were, distant cousins who had never met.  There is one good reason for that strangeness: mother was adopted and never wanted to pursue her origins; she knew the name of her birth mother, had documentation of the event, identifying not only the mother's name but also the town of Andover as the place.  But that was all that she cared to know.  It wasn't enough for me.

The woman identified herself as Linda, and the younger woman as her daughter, Angie.  Turns out Linda and I are distant cousins.  Her great grandfather and my birth great grandmother were brother and sister, siblings of William I. and Mary Agusta Newton Akers.  My birth great grandmother was both Sara Eleanor Akers, later known as Lena S. Akers.  She married John Bond Wyman, a stonemason from Paris, Maine.

That chance meeting was several years ago, and in the meantime I have found other relatives from my mother's previously unknown heritage, including one family on the Wyman side.  My birth maternal grandmother was Myrtie Lena Wyman, youngest daughter of John and Lena.  She died at the age of 25 from tuberculous.  We found the gravestone of John and Lena, and a stone for their young son, John S.  Myrtie is buried in Woodlawn with her parents and brother, but with no marker.  Her sister Linnie is also there without benefit of a stone or any form of marker.

Linda, Angie and I have been in contact on an infrequent basis ever since the day that started with the chance meeting at the graveyard, and the question: "Can I help you?"

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Non-Negotiators

The nation's big banks are apparently beginning to ramp up their real estate foreclosure efforts.  Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported yesterday in the Washington Post and in other news outlets that notices to foreclose increased 14 percent in the third quarter of this year over the previous quarter.

Notices to foreclose are the first step in the process, which can take more than 300 days to the time the lock gets changed on the front door.  The story went on to say that this acceleration in the foreclosure activity is a harbinger of a faster turnaround in the housing market.


The story reasoned that such a turnaround couldn't happen as long as the dark cloud of potential foreclosures hovered over the marketplace.  There were more than 195,000 notices sent out in the third quarter, and more than 196,000 homes taken back.  Banks are on track to reclaim 800,000 homes this year.

Okay, enough of the bull, obviously from sources who aren't paying attention to the real world of housing, or who are oblivious to the reality of general and long held attitudes of non-negotiation by the financial institutions that are largely responsible for the housing debacle in the first place.  These financial wizards were more than willing to grant unaffordable mortgages on over valued properties.  Hey, assessments would catch up eventually, right?  And certainly income levels would increase at an even greater rate, wouldn't they?

Neither happened.

Potential faster turnaround in the housing market?  Seriously?  Adding some 800,000 on top of the more than a million from the year before to the inventory of homes on the market is a harbinger of good things to come?   I guess, in the eyes of some, a vacant, ill-kept home on every street is a good thing.  And, to be sure, adding to the housing stock through the foreclosure process might be providing a greater selection to the home buyer.  But real life tells a different tale.  Even when potential buyers come forward, there is a huge reluctance by banks to negotiate a sales price.

See, bankers have never been considered skilled business negotiators.  Most would never survive outside their walls of finance, where negotiation and compromise are an almost daily exercise and a skill well honed by the most successful.

Many of these new foreclosures are unnecessary and avoidable if only the banks were of a mind to negotiate new terms for the mortgages.  What if, for example, banks said to delinquents who at least had a job, they would restart the clock, forget about the missed payment periods, adjust the interest rate to one that was more affordable, and go forward from there.  In the end it would cost them less on the bottom line than the hit they'll experience with inventories that produce absolutely nothing to the revenue stream for an untold length of time.  The idea of restarting delinquent mortgages  is not a novel idea, certainly not original to me.  It has been suggested by the largest bonding company in the world, but apparently fell on deaf ears.

Congress and the president have urged banks to work with parties delinquent in their payments, and with a wink and a nod the bankers agreed...until the doors closed between them.  Then it was back to business as usual.

In other words, the majority of delinquent mortgages are non-negotiable because the bankers are either inept at the practice or unwilling.

Who benefits from this attitude?  No one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hot Seat for FBI Only Temporary

As I wrote yesterday, someone within the FBI is most certainly responsible for outing the Icelandic woman whose tip allegedly led to the capture of the notorious James "Whitey" Bulger.  Now, according the the Boston Herald, Congress has decided to investigate the situation, with Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana, demanding that whoever tipped the Boston Globe to the woman's whereabouts be "fired".

Of course, this won't happen, and I'm almost certain the questioning by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will lead nowhere, despite initial overt good intentions.

Just sayin'.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Whitey's Tipster and the "Program"

So the Boston Sunday Globe published a story, complete with photos, that it said revealed the residence and identity of the person who supposedly tipped the FBI about the whereabouts of the bureau's number one partner-in-crime, James "Whitey" Bulger.

Oops.  Did I say partner-in-crime?  To the FBI?  Partner in the fact that the G-men were more than willing during Bulger's crime reign in South Boston to turn a blind eye to any number of illegal acts, including murder, as long as Whitey gave the feds something in return to help bolster the FBI's image as tough on organized crime.

Anyway, the Boston Herald, the Globe's local competitor, fretted today that by revealing the identity of the informant and her location in Iceland, her life would no longer be the same, and that she might even be in mortal danger.  The Herald imagined that plane loads of journalists would now be winging their way across the Atlantic to Reykjavik, Iceland in hopes of meeting up with Anna Bjornsdottir, the alleged tipster, who is now $2 million richer thanks to the reward from the FBI.

U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan frets about Anna's safety, announcing in the Herald that her safety cannot be 100 percent guaranteed.  He seems more concerned that the FBI's tipster "program", the one that allowed Bulger to operate his criminal enterprise at will for a number of years, will be jeopardized.

Really, Atty. Sullivan?  Are you serious?  Do you really think the Globe tracked Anna down on its own, that there wasn't a dime dropped by someone within the FBI?  And do you really believe the FBI gives a damn about Anna Bjornsdottir's future?  You know that they are not happy with having to pay out the reward money, just as they have been fighting against compensating the families of some of Bulger & Company's victims.

It all begs the question of whether this Anna Bjornsdottir was really the one who helped the FBI finally nab Bulger and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, after 16 years on the lam.  Was she merely a $2 million cover for the bureau's initial reluctance to bring in its star stoolie?  If so, does that firm up suspicions that the bureau has known all along Bulger's and Greig's whereabouts?

If the FBI is truly concerned about its tipster program, don't you think Anna's going to disappear from the landscape, if she hasn't already?  I'd bet on it.

Just sayin', there are legitimate questions to ponder.

Intro to Me and My Imaginative Spirit