Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Nuccio's Gem

A bunch of years ago I bought a Nuccio's Gem camillia.  It's considered a perfect formal double, which means lots of petals, which open very slowly.  Most of the blooms deteriorate before they finish opening. It opens slowly, and because of some quirk of nature here, it blooms every year when we have rain.  If it rains in January, the damn plant blooms in January.  If it doesn't rain until March, sure enough, it blooms in March. Rain is the enemy of camillia petals, and overnight I end up with a lot of petals with ugly brown spots. So last year, in the midst of a drought here, with a tiny number of rain days, my Nuccio's Gem chose one of those days to bloom.  This year we had no rain in January.  The buds grew, with bits of white petal preparing to pop out, yes, just as it rained.  It probably won't rain again for a month.

But this year I raced out before the rain and found a bloom almost entirely open.  Yes, a formal double that looked like a formal double. Fully open.  No brown.  A stem long enough to stick in a glass of water.  J photographed it so that we could remember what it looked like, and that one year, we got one bloom that looked the way it should.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Diplomatic Relations

One of the first changes to come about as the result of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba is that the cost of making phone calls to Cuba has collapsed.  It used to be that AT&T routed the calls through Canada and it cost $23 a minute.  So calling grandma didn't happen very often.  But now ads are following me about the Internet, offering calls for 59 cents a minute.  I don't know anyone in Cuba, but for those of you who haven't talked to grandma in awhile, just google "calling cuba" and you'll find a bunch of options.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy New Year!

I hope that my three regular readers had a good holiday season--eating, drinking, hanging out with people you wanted to hang out with, and the like.  And while we celebrate the Winter Solstice and the return of the light, I don't require that anyone else celebrate that, and allow everyone to do their own thing.  I'm an old hippie, after all.

My resolution for the blog this year is to write on a regular basis, and to write more organized and substantive posts.  I've been really lazy and it's time to either clean up my act or retire the blog.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Few Comments on Cuba Silliness

I'm way too lazy to do an organized post on some of the silliness being written about Cuba since the Obama Administration decided to recognize the Cuban government.  First up is the argument by the right wing that we didn't get the Cuban government to give up their Revolution in exchange for recognition.  Yeah, we demanded that for 50 some odd years, and that was never going to happen.  The Cubans are perfectly happy to establish diplomatic relations with us, but they aren't going to dismantle the Revolution for it. Sensibly the Obama Administration and the Cuban government did a prisoner exchange instead.

Next up, the Cuban economy is not going to change in any major ways because we've established diplomatic relations.  If the embargo is lifted, Cuba will gain about $2-5 billion a year (the estimate of the cost to the Cuban economy of the embargo).  That's nice money, but it's not like winning the lottery.

Moving right along, Cubans were happy to see diplomatic relations re-established.  First the remaining Cuban Five were released from prison, a big issue for Cuba.  Second they won.  Yeah, they'd won a long time ago, but the US finally admitted that they'd won.  One lesson though: Cubans do not take kindly to the American government mucking about in their politics.  Those who have taken money from the US have been entirely discredited, not just in the eyes of the government but more importantly, in the eyes of the Cuban people.  The people who take money from the US government for nefarious purposes end up emigrating because they have no credibility in Cuba.

Fourth, this won't enable the US to take over Cuba, no matter what some people hope and others fear.  Cuba is a politically developed country, and they suffered the worst economic collapse of any country in the world since the Great Depression in the 1990s. The government didn't fall then, and it ain't gonna happen now.  Get a grip.

And yeah, the Cubans don't have a great human rights record.  But we installed and supported governments that make the Castro brothers look like human rights activists. And remember that the US has more political prisoners in Cuba than the Cuban government does.

Finally, Americans who lost property in Cuba are unlikely to see any compensation.  In particular, the corporations that "bought" property after the Spanish-American War shouldn't even ask for compensation.  What happened was that, during the US occupation, American banks (especially National City Bank) refused to lend money to Cuban landowners, forcing the sale of many properties at fire-sale prices to American investors. The Cubans view that as a national theft, and the US would be well-advised not to remind the them of it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It's About @#$%^&* Time

We have to give President Obama credit for finally doing what needed to be done.  No, not figuring out how to deal with ISIS without getting more people killed, not deciding that some badly-behaved bankers and other Wall Street types should don prison jumpsuits, but simply for recognizing that the little Republic of Cuba should be recognized formally after 50 years of trying to make them cry 'uncle'.  It never worked. They never did.

As others have already noted, Obama wants a legacy, and he doesn't have much on offer. This will definitely make it into the history books, after the long chapters detailing the stupid and brutal policy toward our near neighbor.  Clinton will most likely get the worst rap for beating up on them when they were down--1993--and for signing Helms-Burton which, by the way, prevents Obama from lifting the embargo and establishing diplomatic relations in one go.

Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada is most likely smiling sweetly to himself, as he noted in 1996 that it would be 20 years before the embargo was lifted. He's probably right.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Winter Solstice Bush

We have obtained the winter solstice bush, and J is putting the lights on now. The solstice is at 3:03 PM on Sunday, and we will turn the tree topper from the moon side to the sun side then.

They Are Bipartisan--And Clueless

Turnout in the late election didn't surprise me one bit.  The Democrats touted the economic recovery, which left most of the poorest 65% looking about and saying "huh?", before sitting down to figure out how to pay the rent this month.  As in most "recoveries" since 1981, the economy has done well, while the vast majority haven't.

I don't read David Brooks very often, but was taken by this construction of his world:

Today we once again have a sharp social divide between people who live in the “respectable” meritocracy and those who live beyond it. In one world almost everybody you meet has at least been to college, and people have very little contact with features that are sometimes a part of the other world: prison, meth, payday loans, a flowering of nonmarriage family forms. In one world, people assume they can control their destinies. In the other, some people embrace the now common motto: “It don’t make no difference.”

Widening class distances produce class prejudice, classism. This is a prejudice based on visceral attitudes about competence. People in the “respectable” class have meritocratic virtues: executive function, grit, a capacity for delayed gratification. The view about those in the untouchable world is that they are short on these things. They are disorganized. They are violent and scary. This belief has some grains of truth because of childhood trauma, the stress of poverty and other things. But this view metastasizes into a vicious, intellectually lazy stereotype. Before long, animalistic imagery is used to describe these human beings.

Leaving aside the disclaimer of the final sentence above, it's interesting that his construction of the world has the rest of us in daily contact with prison, meth, payday loans and single parenthood.  I know many people who aren't part of his delayed gratification crowd who have no experience of prison or meth, and little of payday loans. Single parenthood crosses class lines, and while more poor men can't be part of their families, it's not some personal defect, but the result of economic realities.  Further, I've seen plenty of the families on my side of the class divide delaying gratification for decades.

I have come to expect this kind of silliness from both sides of the political divide.  Vice-President Biden's Middle Class Task Force, for instance, defined the middle class as:

…a combination of values, expectations, and aspirations, as well as income levels. Middle class families and those aspiring to be part of the middle class want economic stability, a home and a secure retirement. They want to protect their children’s health and send them to college. They also want to own cars and take family vacations. However, aspirations alone are not enough; middle class families know that to achieve these goals they must work hard and save.

If we look at the people presumptively left out of this definition, we get those who live in a world of prison, meth, payday loans and so on.  And of course, those in the middle class have grit and a capacity for delayed gratification (read: work hard and save).  You almost want to organize a field trip for those who not only utter this smug, self-serving, sanctimonious twaddle, but write it down and publish it.  How hard can these people really be working  if what they write is such nonsense?  You want to sentence them all to a week helping a home health aide change adult diapers and then living on her wages. Then they'd really understand hard work and delayed gratification.