Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holiday

Eat, drink and be as merry as you can this year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On Women and Money

Dean Baker had an interesting piece on Truthout yesterday, looking at why two women, Sheila Bair and Brooksley Born, have done much better than the guys, both in seeing the problems with our financial system and figuring out how to solve them. Born headed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission during the Clinton Administration, and suggested that regulating derivatives might just be a good idea. But The Big Boys, Rubin, Summer and Greenspan, were opposed, advocating self-regulation etc. Well, we know where that got us. Rubin, in an attempt to defend himself, said that Born was insufficiently collegial and--strident.

Ah, whenever women tell men that they're doing something stupid or dangerous, we're strident. And/Or shrill. And that's always a sufficient justification for not listening. I mean, "if only she hadn't been so strident, we wouldn't have kept doing what we were doing, you know, the stuff that crashed the financial system." Not only is that really dumb, but it's not true.

Suppose Ms. Born had come into the meeting, sat demurely with eyes downcast, her hands folded neatly in her lap, and said something like, "I don't want to upset you, but I really think that we might want to think about looking at some problems that might, potentially, some day, show up, maybe, in the derivatives' market that could, if we weren't
careful, have an impact on the financial system." Then The Big Boys would have done what they did anyway, and defended themselves by saying that Born didn't seem overly concerned, or wasn't sufficiently forceful in her presentation.

Every woman who has ever done anything knows that it doesn't matter how we present ourselves. If they ain't gonna listen, they ain't gonna listen, and we might as well say what we have to say in the way that's most comfortable for us.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Sun Returns

Happy Solstice, everyone. Well, in the Northern Hemisphere anyway.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It's Cold

For the past couple of weeks we've been assaulted by a Canadian cold front. (Will they send us their health care system? Noooo. Will they send us their nasty cold air? Sure, here's a couple weeks worth.) Now a lot of people laugh at those of us who think 43 degrees is a cold winter's day. But we're Californians. We're not used to it. We drag out our down jackets when the temperature gets below 50. And J has taken up wearing a scarf indoors, although I will admit that we only warm our house to about 62 degrees--our heater would run constantly if we put it up any higher.

Even the cats have been cold. Sure they demand to be let outside at 7:30, but they don't really mean it. We let them out at about 10, and they're usually back inside by 11:30 to settle down for their naps.

The appointment of Representative Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor is a bone throw to labor. The real power will rest with the big boys at Treasury and the White House. I wonder if she'll last a full term.

The Winter Solstice is at 4:04 AM, Pacific Standard Time. The Sun returns!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On Our Present Condition

There's an interesting discussion over at TPM Cafe this week on Depression economics (economic, not personal depression). I can't pretend to understand much of it, given that I took (and dropped) only one Economics class in my life, but wanted to pick up on a couple of the less technical points. The first is that much of the focus is on getting us consuming again. While I'm not of the Mall is the Playhouse of the Devil school, it seems to me that we could use a little mindfulness in our consuming--buying things we need or want--rather than just hosting products on their way to the landfill, Goodwill or our next garage sale. Much of what is on offer at Target, WalMart and the Dollar Store could disappear from the world tomorrow with no noticeable deterioration in the quality of anyone's life. Unfortunately what really happens during recessions is that all the good stuff disappears from the shelves, to be replaced by junk that is cheap to produce and cheap to buy. I can only think that this happens because capitalism is desperate to sell us something, anything, just to keep the wheels grinding. And please note that I am not suggesting that people purchase only those things they need, in a reprise of the Maoist patch and patch again, but that we think about what we want just a wee bit more than "see it, want it, buy it."

The second issue that goes unmentioned is that a good portion of the population (about 2/3) really didn't have enough money to go shopping even in the before time. Most of the income of most people is spent on the necessities--housing and utilities, health care, transportation, food--and there's damned little left over for the mall. If they really want to get consuming going, the powers what control the economic sphere should give the poorest 2/3 of the population a wage increase. And no one is even talking about the population of the rest of the world, which would just like to consume some safe water and an adequate amount of food.

And finally, how much consuming should people do when little planet Earth really can't absorb all the garbage we're spewing out. Do we really want a world like Wall-E's, where we're forced to abandon most of it to the packaging left behind? Certainly we could do some simple things, like outlawing bottled water in San Francisco, which has the best tap water in the country. Or getting rid of the seven layers of packaging that we have to wade through to get to the item we actually bought.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Solstice Tree

J and I went out this morning to acquire our Solstice Tree. Luckily the Winter Solstice comes just before Christmas, so we're able to piggyback on the larger Christmas celebration. Because this is Sacramento, most people either have plastic trees or obtain their live tree the day after Thanksgiving. By the time we're ready to shop for our tree, the live trees have been sitting around the lot for a loooong time. We went to three purveyors before we--finally--found an acceptable tree at, of all places, Home Depot. Home Depot, I can't believe it. They speak the truth, though, when they say that new trees arrive weekly. We didn't lose half the needles the first time we shook the tree.

J installed the tree in its stand and then put on the lights. We now use the very energy-efficient LEDs, and wonder why anyone ever put 25-watt bulbs on a dead tree. It's amazing the whole country didn't go up in smoke between December 20 and the end of the year. J has become very good at light installation and we only used one strand for our little tree.

We used to use a living tree. But the majority of living trees are either Monterey or Aleppo pines. They're great trees, but nurseries choose them because they grow rapidly. The Monterey pine we had in Oakland grew a couple of feet the first year. We realized then that we weren't going to be able to wrestle it up the stairs for its
third year. So we planted it in a corner of the back yard. It grew and grew--and grew. I read up on them, and discovered that Monterey pines grow 50 feet in twelve years. That tree is on its way to taking over our old neighborhood.

I then set about installing the ornaments--using only only about a quarter or our collection. I don't know how I acquired so many ornaments. I didn't use all of our little wood snowmen and Santas, and none of the large balls. I could probably do a tree twice the size of this one and still have ornaments left over.

On the Solstice, the tree topper will be turned from the Moon side to the Sun side. Spring is coming!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Obama and the Progressives

Various of the punditry are now rising to remind the progressive/left community that we shouldn't be to hard on Obama for his Cabinet choices. After all, he's choosing responsible people. Or he hasn't done anything yet. Well, I disagree. I never thought Obama was going to be all that great in the first place. And I see no reason not to point out that his choices for economic policy include some of the worst offenders in bringing about the present crisis, that his choices for foreign policy are a bunch of hawks (as if we could afford another war), his Chief of Staff is famous not for any progressive legislation, but for his work to bring us NAFTA, and he kept a Republican as Secretary of Defense. And while these choices don't tell us what his policies will be, they give us a pretty good indication. And it's not good.

Friday, December 5, 2008

More Shopping

Why do we keep getting bad advice from the local newspaper? First they all suggested that we buy houses, no matter what the cost. Now we're supposed to buy small, useless trinkets made by local artisans and sold in yuppie replacements for the Gifte Shoppe. Take, for example, this piece from the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Now, this 'buying local for the holidays' credo may mean that when I buy, I buy small. I am well aware that hand-crafted items and those sold in boutiques may cost more, sometimes alarmingly so. There's a premium because artists aren't buying raw materials or producing in bulk; for the stores, there are no efficiencies of scale to help drive down the unit price. That's why a hand-sewn wallet ends up costing the same as a larger, factory-made purse from a department store, a fact not lost on me as I peer at the wallet wondering, 'Is this gold thread or something? Did she raise the cow and hand-cure the leather?' So maybe instead of the wallet, I buy a key fob."

No, no, no, you don't. It doesn't matter if the key fob is handmade by a local artisan or from Target, if the person who receives it just dumps it in a drawer or sends it off to Goodwill. Don't buy people things they neither need nor want. Not only is that not frugal in the present period, but it just adds to the National Junk Heap. If you really want to purchase something handmade for someone, take her with you, notice what she likes, and then go back and purchase it later. I can almost guarantee that it won't be the key fob.

Our local "alternative" weekly has a "Shop Local" campaign this year. I think it's designed to sell ads. But its biggest problem is that Sacramento has the worst local shopping of any city in the country. Even J, who believes that shopping is a torture inflicted specially on him, was excited by the opening of a new Cost Plus, as that provided better stuff than the local boutiques. I'd be happy to shop local if I could find anything to buy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Such Fun

It's been such fun reading the more right-wing pundits work their way through our economic crisis. I mean, it's so difficult to argue against $60 billion for a national health system when the gummit has just blown $350 billion, and you're not quite sure what they spent it on. And then the gummit decides that the $350 billion didn't do much good and they need to spend another $350 billion and you're not quite sure what they want to spend it on.

But they're doing their best to limit the damage, so to speak. There's been a concerted effort to argue that the New Deal policy to enable unionization was, in fact, bad for workers, as it maintained high levels of unemployment. And now Robert Samuelson has made his contribution, arguing that Obama should devote himself to the immediate crisis and leave
issues like health insurance and green industries for some indefinite future. I'm sure that someone probably argued to Roosevelt that he should pay attention to the immediate crisis and leave Social Security to another time. Luckily for us, he didn't listen. And while I expect that Obama would dearly love to offload his more progressive campaign promises, public pressure may force him to come through.