Monday, December 31, 2007

So Much to Report

I have been so bad. I haven't written since Thanksgiving. So I'll just update events.

Christmas was destined to be low-key this year. Mom died two days after Christmas last year and I just wasn't into it this year. J is never into Christmas, so we did cards, a few decorations, bought ourselves a digital camera, and let it go at that. I did cook a turkey with Mom Dressing for Christmas, and it actually turned out well. The secret, though, was using turkey stock (prepared by J, of course) instead of water. And of course, the purchase of an expensive organic turkey.

Midmonth I headed off to Oklahoma City for my niece, C's, bat mitzvah. Auntie assisted in the preparation of cookies and a cake, arranged food on trays and in baskets, lit candles without setting the temple on fire, delivered the blessing (in English only) and refrained from tripping on steps four times. However, I was unable to properly prepare instant mashed potatoes and produced a weak potato soup.

I do not understand, though, why anyone takes trips by air in December. My flight to Oklahoma City was uneventful, but the flight home took two days and required extensive late-night haggling with Customer Service Representatives. All was well as I boarded the plane in Oklahoma City. There was a dusting of snow on the ground, but no blizzard certainly, and the plane was taken for de-icing. Two and a half hours later, the plane took off for Dallas. There had been high winds in Dallas earlier in the day and air traffic control shut down the airport for several hours. So when we arrived in Dallas, we had to wait a half hour for a gate. Which meant that I had long since missed my flight home. And so had a lot of other people.

We gathered at the gate for the last flight of the day to Sacramento. It was scheduled to take off at 9:20, but finally left the gate at 11:20. I was not on it. Very tired Customer Service Representatives were then left to deal with very tired passengers. They tried to convince us to come back in the morning on standby. Yeah, they wanted 50 of us to fly standby two days before Christmas. I don't think so. They then tried to convince me to fly to San Jose. Noooo. Finally they scheduled me for a flight to Los Angeles, and then to Sacramento.

My flight was at 6:45. I was there on time and the plane took off only 40 minutes late. I was a bit worried about my connection to Sacramento, but figured that if I missed it, there would surely be another flight to Sacramento from Los Angeles with room for me. No, there's no more adventure. I made the flight, but was selected for additional screening. (This is common when one airline gets you on a flight with another airline. That way, they meet their random check quota without having to make their own customers mad.) The TSA screening was, however, perfunctory, as they had figured out why I was selected and that I didn't appear to be terrorist material. The poor guy was forced to close my overstuffed carry-on and, as he struggled with it, I smiled sweetly and noted that I kept my liquids in my backpack just so I wouldn't have to open and close the carry-on. Finally home and taken out to brunch. Did I mention that I called J about every 15 minutes to vent?

We spent Christmas Eve day with our friends, P and J, who do a Christmas Eve dinner when they're in town. Last year they adopted G, a delightful toddler, who is now fully mobile. This means that everything has been moved to adult eye level. (The upstairs bar had long since been converted to a formula bar.)

And today I'm going to clean the bathrooms.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

Wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner prepared by J. I set the table and loaded the dishwasher.

Roast Duck with Port Sauce
Wild Rice Pilaf
Green Beans with Sauteed Almonds
Green Salad with Cucumbers and Citrus
Cranberry Sauce

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ugh, a new climate change report

Today the UN IPCC released its new report on climate change. I haven't read it yet, but the summary and the news reports indicate that it's not good. In fact, it's very bad. More importantly for our purposes, the residents of Little Planet Earth have to move much more quickly to limit the effects of climate change to the merely awful (as opposed to the catastrophic). It is unfortunate that the greatest carbon glutton is led by a man who makes Richard Nixon look good. (Tricky Dick. Oh god, I never thought I'd say that.) And Ronald Reagan could at least remember his lines, most of the time.

It's already clear that our government, and probably the next one, whether Republican or Democrat, isn't going to do what needs to be done. But I didn't expect that they would. What the IPCC report means, though, is that that political reality means that we are lost. We will long since have passed the point of no return before our political leaders are willing to impose the changes that would be necessary to save Little Planet Earth.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On Torture and Keith Olbermann

I don't have cable TV, so I wasn't able to watch Keith Olbermann until I got high-speed internet and could watch YouTube videos. At first I was really into YouTube and feared that my attention span was going to be reduced to 6:20. But I got over that and now only watch them when there's a link to YouTube on a site where I actually have to read something. Olbermann first came to my attention in September, when he trashed Bush for all of Bush's obvious failings. We needn't dwell on those here. But I'd assumed that all cable news was like FoxNews and was only interested in it as a source of entertainment.

So I checked out Olbermann and discovered that he really doesn't like Bush, was very upset at the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame (something that doesn't upset me at all, as I suspect all CIA agents of plotting against governments I like and supporting governments I detest) and had a one-night stand with a woman who later blogged on the horror of it all.

Anyway, a new Olbermann YouTube has come to my attention. It's a hissy-fit denunciation of our new Attorney General and the Congresspersons who voted for his confirmation over the AG's apparent support for what are now known as "enhanced interrogation techniques." And specifically the "enhanced interrogation technique" known as waterboarding. For the four people in the world who may not know what waterboarding is, it's a torture technique designed to make the victim believe that she or he is drowning.

What was most disturbing, though, in Olbermann' s presentation was the apparent belief that the practice of torture was something new in the US repertoire. Had he not seen State of Siege when it was shown on a double bill at half of all the benefits I attended in the 1970s, with either Battle of Algiers or Salt of the Earth? Had he not heard of Dan Mitrione, the School of the Americas or the various congressional reports detailing our bad behavior in various Third World countries? It is certainly embarrassing to have one's government outlaw various methods of torture, given that we shouldn't be practicing them in the first place, but the actual practice of torture by our government is nothing new.

(I went off to Wikipedia to learn the history of waterboarding and discovered that an early form dates from the Spanish Inquisition, then to the modern version used by both the Germans and the Japanese during World War II, and the adoption of the technique by the French in the Algerian conflict. On reading this, I was sure that--and I don't know why--the United States must have used it in the Philippines. I was right, as William Loren Katz details in a recent Counterpunch article, which is at:

I don't know why these things pop into my head; they just do.) While once upon a time, our government didn't admit to torture and certainly didn't claim a "right" to torture people, our government most certainly did torture people in practice.

I suppose it's better to have Keith Olbermann opposing torture than FoxNews supporting it, but it doesn't give Americans a clue that this might not be our first experiment with electric shock and the hood.

(A note on a barely related topic: Olbermann's latest video is a denunciation of smut on FoxNews. Apparently they've been showing a lot of skimpy bikinis on their newscasts and Olbermann is incensed! Frankly, the more smut, the less time spent convincing people that there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. More Smut, Less Talk.)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Belated Environment Blog

My mom died last December. Today would have been her 78th birthday.

I promised my niece that I would blog on the environment today to make up for my grievous failure to come through on environment blog day (October 15th). Until Sunday I couldn't figure out exactly what to write about--global warming, the water crisis, deforestation, agricultural policy, the problems with petroleum-based products etc. etc. But then on Sunday I opened my San Francisco Chronicle and, in the Magazine, read the articles that set this course.

Three houses--the smallest of them 2,000 square feet, the largest 5,000 square feet. All very modern, open, beautiful gardens. All entirely too big. J and I live in the largest space we've ever had--it's 1,200 square feet. We have a room we use to store the desk, the file cabinet and two bookcases. (We rarely work at the desk, as we use our laptop on the kitchen table or the living room sofa.) This is more than enough space for two people; our flat in Oakland was about 650 square feet.

It wouldn't be so bad if it were only the really, really rich who "needed" all this territory. But the average house is now over 2,000 square feet. And the average household doesn't even have four people. Does the average household really need four bedrooms and three garages? How many rooms never get used? How much of the space is used to store junk that should just be given away? And do people ever think about what would happen if everyone in the world required that much living space? (I will not go on and on about the fact that much of the carbon allocation schemes allow no increase in carbon use by the majority of the world's population, something that majority rightly objects to.)

Oddly enough, raising the price of housing has only exacerbated the problem. As housing close to job centers becomes more expensive, and as more of it is expanded to provide larger living spaces for fewer residents, people are forced to move farther and farther away to find housing they can afford. And as the poor move to the inner-ring suburbs for more affordable housing, the more affluent who cannot afford the urban core leapfrog over those communities to buy ranchettes or houses in the forest. Not only does this place increasing pressure on natural resources, it also increases the carbon costs of commuting. Larger houses distant from work centers are doing nothing to reduce our carbon footprint.

In California the problem is made worse by Proposition 13. One of its (I think) unintended consequences was to make all but the most expensive housing cost-ineffective for local governments. Only the most expensive housing pays for itself in property taxes, so local governments encourage retail (which provides sales taxes) and commercial uses over housing. Communities seek to develop larger houses for richer people whose property taxes will pay the cost of providing services to them. (California's Central Valley, however, now has the problem of a large number of houses affordable to the affluent, but not sufficient affluent to fill them.)

Unfortunately we have little time to address the problem. Southern California is already having serious water problems, and it is only a matter of time before the northern part of the state joins them. Even if rainfall is sufficient, our water system is designed to capture and store snowmelt, not rainwater. (Snowmelt is also more predictable, controllable and easier to manage.) Our transportation system cannot and should not continue to serve more far-flung communities either with freeways or public transit. And even the most energy-efficient 2,000 square foot house uses more energy that an energy-inefficient smaller house.

What is to be done?

1. Communities must develop housing affordable to the workforce. If 20% of a community's workforce is very low income, 20% of its housing should be affordable to very low income people. If the community fails to do so, it would face three fines. The first would equal the value of the mortgage interest deduction to the community. The second fine would equal the depreciation write-off taken by landlords in the community. The third would be a carbon tax on the excess carbon used by workers who had to commute from other communities.

2. Communities must develop effective public transportation systems that serve all communities equally. The Los Angeles bus riders' strike is instructive here. Efficient public transportation must serve both poor and rich communities equally.

3. Excess carbon use taxes would be imposed on excessively large houses--the McMansion tax. And no house, no matter how energy efficient, would receive LEED certification if it provided more than 500 square feet per person. Period.

4. People owning second homes in city cores would face stiff taxes. While this wouldn't prevent the very rich from having city condos, it would limit the merely affluent to a single home.

5. Communities would be discouraged from developing excessive retail space. The United States now has three times more retail space per capita than Britain (our nearest competitor) and ten times more retail space than Europe overall. We do not need to devote that much urban and suburban space to yet another Target. And one Starbuck's every 50 feet--is that really necessary?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Playing with the Webcam

Today I spent some time playing with my webcam. J bought it for me when I was in Hawaii and I toyed with it a little there. I haven't used it much since though. So I set it up, which takes about four seconds, and took some pictures. I even made a small video of the back yard. If I can, i'll upload it, even though it's really awful. Embarrassing even. But here's one of the better pictures I took.

Friday, November 2, 2007

A Long, Slow Fall

Fall here is a strange time. It's usually still very dry, not having rained more than a tenth of an inch since May, and can sometimes be almost as hot as summer. This year fall appeared quite suddenly just after Labor Day and has been hanging 'round ever since. The trees have changed color slowly and held their colors for more than a month, as nights have been cool and we haven't had a windy tropical storm that brings down all the leaves at once. And this year the daytime temperatures have been mild, not higher than 85 degrees and often in the 70s.

But much as I love the trees, I look with misgivings at the oak in my yard. I see the thousands of leaves turning brown. I see them falling onto the patio. I see myself with a broom. I see myself picking leaves out of pots before they entirely smother the plants. I see myself asking J to schlepp yet another full can to the street. One local garden writer suggested that the leaves shouldn't be swept up, but just serve as mulch for garden beds. Were I to attempt that, I'd have to build a retaining wall to maintain a path through the yard. And I am glad Sacramento has the Claw.

The Claw is a Sacramento institution. Instead of sweeping garden debris into garbage cans for collection, Sacramentans dump our grass clippings, dead plants, and fallen leaves in piles on the street. The Claw then comes around and collects everything, taking it off to become mulch for the local parks. In the 1970s the City proposed ending green matter collection, which sparked a referendum to Save the Claw. The Claw was saved and the attempts to shift green matter collection to a tidier system have been very cautious.

Even better, the long fall has enabled me to plant lettuce. In some years the fall is just too hot for lettuce. But this year I've already begun my first crop and will start another set of lettuce pots in a couple of weeks. If I can limit the ill effects of the evil whitefly ,I will have lettuce until the middle of December. I don't try to plant lettuce right around the solstice, so I'll then put in my next crop in mid-January. If the weather co-operates, I'll be able to grow lettuce through the end of May. By June it's always too hot for lettuce and we'll have to depend on the grocery store and farmer's market.

Friday, October 26, 2007

For C

My niece C and I have been emailing regularly, as her bat mitzvah is in December and Auntie is to be in attendance. Her last email, however, reminded me that I had not blogged recently. It's all because I bombed out and neglected to do my blog on the environment last week. I was so ashamed that I just couldn't write. So I will do my blog on the environment for what would have been my mom's 78th birthday, November 8.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Blog Action Day

October 15, 2007 is Blog Action Day. This year's topic is the environment and all bloggers are encouraged to post on environmental issues--broadly defined. Please consider a post on the environment for that date. To find out more, go to

I would hope that at least some posts would address the issues of environmental justice and environmental racism--both in industrialized countries and in the Third World. And I hope that there's a blogger expert who can write on the environmental catastrophe that is present-day Iraq.

The Next Section

On Saturday J announced that we should begin clearing the ivy from the next section of the front yard, in preparation for planting something more interesting. We'd gone to the plant sale at the UC Davis Arboretum and picked up several plants for which we had no other use. (We'd also stopped at Robert Hamm's plant sale at the Gifted Gardener too, but I only bought three plants there.) J spent most of Sunday and much of today digging up what is now a large pile of ivy and ivy root, breaking up clods of nasty clay soil and dumping in two bags of compost. This week I'll lay out the plant possibilities and we'll put them in next week. Then I'll have to hope that we get the warm, wet winter that I have predicted. Otherwise I will spend much of my time recreating a wet winter with the garden hose.

(I do not, of course, deserve J, who has put up with me for so long. Were he to write the story of our marriage, it would be titled Twenty-six Years of Exasperation.)

I spend a lot of time here thinking about the weather. In Oakland I never paid any attention to the weather. Winter temps ranged from 50 to 65 degrees; in summer the range was from 55 to 75 degrees. It didn't rain much, but we did have the fog that cleared to the coast most days by noon. In Sacramento the weather ranges from egregious to appalling. In winter we have freezes that can kill tender plants. In summer the daytime temperature is almost always above 90 degrees and can be above 100 degrees for days at a time. Just keeping the plants alive soaks up huge amounts of time and energy. And that means that I scan the weather report in the newspaper every day. In Oakland I only checked it sporadically, and then mostly to see how many different ways "morning fog, clearing to the coast by midday" could be reported.

That said, I must report that, as I predicted, we're having a long fall this year. It was miserably hot just before and just after Labor Day, but the daytime temperatures have mostly been in the low 80s--and sometimes in the 70s--for a month now. I am happy. The cats are happy. The plants are happy. In fact, some of them having taken up blooming again (the plants, not the cats or me).

Monday, September 24, 2007

Another Unprovoked Attack (War)? I'm Afraid So

I don't know how many of you have been following the government's attempt to turn Iran into the next Iraq--a rogue state with weaponry that could bring us down in a moment, strange people who don't speak English the way George Bush does, sitting on oil they might not want to give to us...

Once upon a time, last year, I couldn't believe that the US would launch another unprovoked attack. After all, it cannot be a surprise to even the most gung-ho war supporter that the attack on Iraq has not gone well. So it seemed improbable that our government would decide to try again. But I think I expected too much rationality, or maybe they've taken the egregious Thomas Friedman's admonition to be a little bit crazy seriously.

Whatever their reasons, it appears that we are being softened up for another war. The talking heads are talking up the dangers we face from Iran. Next we'll start hearing about aluminum tubes, and then we'll see satellite pictures of trucks driving around the desert. Democrats will start scurrying for cover.

I expect the unprovoked attack--oops, war--to be launched in February or March. By then it will be too late to impeach them.

My Summer Vacation

I've been really lazy. I went to Hawaii and didn't write a word about it, even though I had my computer with me and access to a fast internet connection. I was just lazy. And I've been back for a month now.

My friend A took us along with her when she went to help care for her mom, who lives in Kailua. I didn't think J would want to go, but he did, so we all headed off for Honolulu. I'm not a good flyer, but the plane left too early in the morning for J to pour a beer down me before embarking. I survived the flight, but on landing the pilot had to abort the first attempt and come 'round for another attempt. Anyone else on getting to see Diamond Head for both the first and second time from the air would be thrilled, but I only wondered whether the plane had enough fuel for the second attempt.

Living in Sacramento has given me a great appreciation for any landscape with features. And Hawaii has features. The color of the ocean is a color unlike the Pacific anywhere on the California coast. It's not quite teal, but almost. And the mountains (the highest is about 2,500 feet) rise from sea level in almost vertical cliffs. So while they wouldn't be much more than foothills here in California, the mountains of Oahu are imposing in appearance. Even better the colors of the mountains change every 15 minutes--sometimes green, sometimes brown, sometimes a purple-black--as the ever-present clouds strike shadows across the sky.

I think there must be a beautiful sandy beach every 30 feet, and we sampled several of them. I did insist on putting my feet in Waikiki (and in fact spotted fish from the sea wall there), but spent more time at Kailua and Lanikai beaches. Most of my beach time was spent swimming, so I didn't get to read a single beach book. There wasn't time.

A is a wonderful tour guide and organized our time to see as much as we could in the nine days we were there. We were taken to Honolulu, the North Coast, hiking to Waimea Falls, snorkeling at Shark's Cove, to the Blowhole, everywhere. While Oahu is a small island, travel is slow. There are no superhighways and the maximum speed on the island is 60 mph. Most roads are much slower--35 to 40 mph. We never got to the Bishop Museum or Hanauma Bay or Pearl Harbor, so I'll just have to make another trip some day...

I somehow managed to develop an interest in the early missionaries who came to Hawaii in 1820. At a really excellent bookstore in Kailua I happened across one of the classics on the subject (Bradford Smith's Yankees in Paradise) and will get around to reading it as soon as I finish the book I'm reading with the PACE freshmen at Kennedy High later this month--Epitaph for a Peach. It's difficult looking at the portraits and photographs on Hawaii's royal family wearing heavy woolen clothing when shorts and tank tops are far more appropriate to the climate. But through the majority of the 19th century that's what they wore.

J has put up the pictures at
so you can see our trip.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Writing in the Yard

I've been sitting in the yard for 45 minutes now, trying to start a comment on Michael Ignatieff's mea culpa in last week's New York Times magazine. Admittedly the piece turned my brain to sludge for a week, but I should be able to churn something out. Yet, nothing.

Perhaps it's that I just can't write serious stuff unless I am inside, sitting at the table. It's not as miserably hot as usual, so I'm sitting in the yard, watching the cats play and listening to the sounds of the Sacramento evening--traffic, traffic helicopters--and watching Dash play with Little Pal from next door. Actually, I have to pay close attention to keep Little Pal from opening the screen door and heading for the cat food corner. He saw Emma open the door once and quickly mastered the skill. Constant vigilance is now required to keep him out.

Oh, yes, and there are mockingbirds and hummingbirds as well. They're noisy, but not as noisy as the blue jay and her adolescent we had living in the privet tree for awhile. The jay was teaching her issue to talk and this required practice. A lot of practice. Practice in the morning, practice in the afternoon, practice in the evening. And the kid didn't seem to be doing very well. So they practiced some more. I've never even considered a pellet gun before, and I'm sure I would never have done such a thing, but... I haven't seen them for about a week, so I figure the kid must have mastered the basics.

Perhaps is just that I don't have anything new to say about Iraq. One of the good things about having a blog of my own is that I have to read serious stuff. No hanging out on GardenWeb reading about tomatoes and aphids. No watching Onion Videos. That's probably a good thing, as I think my attention span may now be 6:02. But it also means that I discover that many other people have the same thoughts I do, and they frequently express them better than I would have. So I keep my own counsel, not wanting to repeat thoughts better expressed by others.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Incarvillea

Playing in the dirt was so much easier in Oakland than it is here. There I could plant almost anything in the nasty clay soil and it would do reasonably well. I planted the traffic island, which had soil only the most tenacious weeds could love, and most stuff flourished. Here the same plants don't survive, no matter what I do. I've tried coddling, tough love, everything, but still the incarvillea is weak. I trashed one as part of the Mass Herbicide in the spring, when I decided to replant one section of the back yard. The two in front have only a month or two to show why they should be allowed to stay.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Fog! Oh Joy! Fog!

Once upon a time, when I lived in San Francisco, I railed against the summer fog. Sometimes in the summer the fog would burn off at about 2:00 and return at about 2:30. It was cool--no, cold-- all summer. When we moved across the bay to Oakland, we'd get somewhat more sun. The fog would burn off sometime in the morning and return by late afternoon. Some summers were better than others--meaning that we got more sun for more of the day. The natural air conditioning worked pretty well most of the summer.

Sacramento isn't like that. Here the sun shines brightly all day, all summer. And it's a harsh, ugly light. It's often too hot to work in the yard after noon. And by 5:00, it's deadly. I'm trapped in the house with the air conditioning. Yuck!

But this morning I woke up to--fog. A good thick layer. It may be foggy well into the afternoon. The light is wonderful--soft and damp--the way it's s'posed to be. Perhaps we'll get a full day or two of this delicious fog before the summer heat returns. Greedy! Greedy!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

In Search of Potholders

I had thought of beginning this blog with an introduction, but haven't gotten round to thinking about what I'm going to do with it. So I'll just say that it will evolve. I don't know whether I'll write every day or once a week or lose interest entirely after a month or so. I'll just see where it goes and follow along.

It's probably not a positive to begin a blog by whining, but I've just spent a frustrating two hours searching for potholders. Yes, potholders. When J and I moved here from Oakland six years ago, one of the first things I noticed was that the goods available seemed to be the leftovers from Hayward. Simple things like tapers were difficult, if not impossible, to find. And when I finally found them, I had a "choice" of one style and three colors. Goods available at any corner market in Oakland required a journey to a specialty shop here. And so my search for potholders took me to four stores, all of which had the same style in the same colors.

What gives? Have the powers that be determined that we're potentially another Cuba and decided to embargo us? Or have Sacramentans become so worn down that they accept what they cannot change and make their selections from the meager goods on offer? Or has the population decided to order on the internet? Come to think of it, the Sacramento Bee did report about a year ago that Sacramentans do more internet shopping than any other large city in the country. This might explain why.

Even shopkeepers who should know better try to foist goods on us that should be returned to sender. A couple of years ago, one of our local plant nurseries tried to sell us plants that, according to the description, loved our cool summers. Cool summers? The daytime temperature here is almost always above 90 degrees from June to September and it's often above 100. Were they so desperate for plant matter that they'd take anything?