Friday, February 26, 2010

Cleaning Up

Yesterday I spent an hour trashing part of the front yard. The plants there weren't doing well--overgrown, not enough sun. So I put them out of their misery. J doesn't know it yet, but he will be moving a bunch of plants around and planting new hires as soon as it stops raining. On the other side of the yard, the lantana overran the Cistus Sunset, so the lantana has been given a severe haircut and the Cistus will be killed and new ones planted. (Cistus doesn't take kindly to severe pruning, and tends to die if cut back more than a couple of inches.) But today it's supposed to rain, so I'll have to clean the bathroom and read, or something.

I'm reading Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower for the book club at the local high school. I get a group of sophomores and we read the book together over the course of five weeks. This time I'm going to try something new. Instead of telling them what the themes are, I'm going have them select the theme(s) for discussion each week. I just want to see what they come up with, and whether having them decide what we talk about improves the discussion or finishes it off after ten minutes. Of course, I will have to prepare a "reserve" discussion in case this bombs. I'm not sure that I'll do the same thing with Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona, as I'll be reading that with the freshmen, and they might need more guidance and direction. (It's amazing how much they mature from freshman to sophomore year.)

Also read Dean Baker's False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy. It's less angry,
more resigned than his Plunder and Blunder (which I seem to have misplaced somewhere on the bookshelf), but explains how the financial elite got us into this mess in words--no funny symbols, no formulas. And this is a good thing. For the past 30 years or so, economists have been trying to convince us, using all sorts of symbolic representations (and no, I don't want to hear that words are symbolic representations too--I'm not going there) that neoliberalism was good for us. It wasn't good for us--it was a bunch of drivel intended to enrich the rich and impoverish the rest of us.

But, anyway, getting back to the book in question, it mostly restates Baker's arguments of the last few years: the basis of the crisis was the bubble economy (and the housing bubble specifically), any reasonably competent economist should have seen it, the bubble should never have been allowed to build and simple actions on the part of the government overseers could have prevented it, and once it all came crashing down, the government, once again, didn't deal with it properly and, in fact, bailed out the people responsible for making the mess in the first place. It's a fast read--I did it in a couple of hours--so those who don't want to wade through a lot of economics can get the argument in a merciful 159 pages. And it's mostly decently written, since much of it is lifted from papers and reports he'd published previously. Which means that every so often you get a transition sentence like, "(t)he country
having to endure long periods of unemployment is wholly unnecessary for the simple reason that we know how to prevent it." Whoa! And when one is writing anything dealing with mortgages, one should always use the "search" feature to hunt down every use of "principle" to make sure that it shouldn't be "principal." Petty copy-editing notes aside, it's worth the two hours.

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