Friday, October 2, 2015

Does Amazon Understand Its Business Model?

This morning's paper reports that Amazon will no longer sell video-streaming products from Apple and Google.  Now if Amazon were brick-and-mortar that might make sense. You might decide "oh, hell, I'm here and I might as well get this, rather than drive across town for Apple."  But that's not how Internet purchasing works.  Finding another product is a matter of opening another window and going to another site.  I'm still sitting on the sofa.  Isn't that the whole idea of Amazon?  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


Can the Greek government be as incompetent as it seems?  Uh, if you've decided to force your creditors to negotiate with you by defaulting, prepare for the consequences up front. Be clear with people about what it means.  And share the pain equitably.  Learn from the Cuban crisis of the early 1990s, probably the worst collapse in any country since the Great Depression.

I want Greece to win this one--I really do.  Greece is standing in for all of the other people who got screwed in the Great Recession.  Ireland, for instance, stupidly decided to take on the debt of their private banks. Spain, which is selling off its social housing to Goldman and Blackstone. The US tenants who had to deal with Deutsche Bank, the worst of a bad lot. And of course, all of the people who lost their homes and jobs because banks couldn't behave themselves.

And an actual economist sent me to this, in case anyone has forgotten how often Germany has reneged on its debts.

One other note: it occurs to me that the investor purchases of rental housing post-recession isn't that much different from the securitization of mortgages, in that rental housing has become an important source of profit for the financial sector.  Just as housing equity was the only money left in the real economy in the bubble period, now rent payments have taken their place.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Americans should not feel proud that the Confederate flag is being removed from various government buildings.  Americans should be ashamed that, more than a century after the end of the Civil War, that flag hangs anywhere other than the basement bedroom of someone named Bubba.  Not only does it decorate any number of government buildings in the former Confederate States, but it appears on license plates, t-shirts, coffee mugs and so on.  If we were a decent people, the Confederate flag would have about the same status as the Nazi swastika.

In other news, I've decided to have Facebook friends.  Up to now, I've just used Facebook to play games and keep up on organizations I'm interested in.  I sent two friend requests, and nearly cried when one took a couple of hours to respond, so I'll wait for others to friend me.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Belated Happy Birthday to Me

Most people don't forget to note their own birthdays, but I am not most people.  Not only that, it's one of those "milestone" birthdays (60) that generally involve a fancy trip or dinner out or something.  J cooked dinner, but we put off going out until my knees were better and I could have trout.

And so I don't screw up again, J and I will celebrate our second 34th anniversary on the 9th.  I don't want an opal, so I may buy myself something in amethyst--the 33rd anniversary gift.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sacramento Does Important Service to Art World

Most of the country does not know that Sacramento's City Council voted to pay money for a Jeff Koons piece, Coloring Book 4, which will permanently reside in front of the new basketball arena, which also received a bunch of public money.  Now I have to say that I have the same reaction to Jeff Koons that I do to David Salle and Julian Schnabel, that they came into being with Ronald Reagan and reflect that time--really big art, really expensive art, not requiring much thought on the part of those who buy it.  Like many other cultural phenomena of that period--belief in welfare queens, cutting social services, getting involved in stupid wars--Koons has hung around long past his "sell by" date.

Sacramento may be helping this along.  Trends come here to live on--many of them long beyond the time they've died out in more interesting places.  So getting a Koons may be bad for us, but the best thing for art in a very long time.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Race Together

Why do middle class people think they have the right to invade the privacy of the working class?  Why do they ask questions that they'd never ask of other middle class people?  And why do corporate executives think it's okay to encourage their underpaid employees to engage in conversations that are likely to be uncomfortable at best?  And they're worthless.  I mean, what can your local barista do about the systemic racism in our society?  Not much.

And middle class people always think they have a great deal to contribute to the conversation.  They don't.  Really.  Is the African American barista actually going to tell the honky office worker that she is full of it?  Don't think so.

You do not invade the privacy of others by discussing topics other than the weather, the crowdedness of the cafe/restaurant/store and so on.  You may, if Starbuck workers go on strike for higher wages and better working conditions, and win the strike, mention how wonderful it is to have the striking baristas back.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

LAO on Housing

Dan Walters, who has been writing right-wing political analysis since I was a small child, sent me to the LAO report on housing in California and, while Walters puts his own spin on it, it does point up the real problem with housing here--it's way, way too expensive.  I haven't read the whole thing (I will, promise), but a couple of things stand out.  The first is that the LAO doesn't trash rent control, which is a good thing, since it's not a good idea to rattle on about the lack of supply and then suggest that we get rid of 170,000 rent-controlled units in San Francisco.  If you can't produce 10,000 affordable units a year, instantly coming up with nearly 200,000 units is going to be difficult.  The second is that, while recognizing the wimpy-ness of the Legislature's response to the problem, it doesn't point out ways to improve the situation.

I think that, first of all, we should eliminate the mortgage interest deduction.  It costs the state nearly $5 billion a year, most of which goes to already rich people.  Second tenants who are overpaying for rent should get a refundable tax credit of their excess rent payments.  It could be indexed, so that extremely low-income people received all of their rent back, very low-income people almost all of their rent payments, and so on up the economic scale.  The State Legislature does nothing to address the problem because it doesn't cost them anything not to do so. Third communities that are not providing affordable housing should face serious fines.  After all, they are forcing workers in their communities to drive long distance to work, which costs a bunch in time and pollution.  If a local government faces the loss of much of its state funding, it will very quickly address the problem.  

One of the fun things happening lately is that discussion of rent control is popping up all over the place, and in some of the oddest places, like Burlingame and Mountain View and Redwood City.  One silly local councilperson, faced with the need to allocate space and spend money to create affordable housing, as well as enact rent controls, suggested that people should come up with more "creative" solutions.  I thought immediately of 12 Grimmauld Place, where the house and its residents only exist in the magical interstices, and do not impinge on the lives of the rest.  Unfortunately that only works in children's fiction.

One other note: the report notes that the housing is needed in the coastal regions and doesn't advocate having people transport themselves to jobs from far-flung housing. That's a good thing, as it makes no sense in a time of climate change to increase transportation pollution.