Thursday, October 28, 2010

Peon on TV

Peon was, very briefly, on the KCRA 11:00 PM news last night. I can't find a link to the video, but here's the article on the Tenants Together website, and here it is from KCRA. I'm discussing the Landlord Hall of Shame. KCRA lights interviewees really well. I asked the camera person if I could take the system home to light me in my living room.

And a wonderful book for people who are interested in things like why forks have four tines -- At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Applying for Jobs

One of my few skills is the ability to quickly and accurately decide whether applicants for jobs are worth interviewing. I have a simple A, B and C classification system. If you don't have any of the applicable skills, you're a C. If you have some skills, or in some way indicate that we can train you, you're a B. If you have a lot of skills and have done the research to write competently about what the organization does and how much you support the goals of the organization, you're on the interview list.

And unlike some companies and organizations, I actually read all of the cover letters and resumes. Using buzzwords won't get you an interview, and neither will telling me that you're a bundle of energy. (My teeth hurt at the very thought.) But there are a bunch of other things that will get you put in the C pile. First, proofread your cover letter and resume. That means reading the damn thing, and correcting any misspelled words, improperly placed punctuation, and sentence fragments and run-ons. If the first sentence of your cover letter is a fragment, it had better be a really good one. And the comma splice is not used in American English, so unless your resume says you went to Leeds, a comma splice should appear nowhere in your letter.

Don't make me decipher your resume. Tell me where you worked, when you worked there, and what you did. The "skills-based resume" is hard to follow, and I'm going to figure out any gaps in employment anyway. Don't try to confuse me.

Read the instructions carefully, and follow them exactly. This is particularly important if "attention to detail" is one of the job requirements. If we want email only, don't send us hard copy. I, for instance, work remotely, and a hard-copy submission is hard for us to deal with. Don't ever send anything in a format that's difficult or impossible to open. You're a C if I can't open your documents. If I want a PDF, send a PDF. If I want a Word document, send me a Word document. If you can't send in the required format, I should know why.

Finally, no matter what the resume "professionals" tell you, do not telephone us if we ask that you not telephone. It brings you to our attention, but not in a good way. And I have never had anyone telephone who hadn't already been relegated to the Cs.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finally Some Sense on Laos

Most people outside the Sacramento region don't know much about the trial of less than a score of Hmong Americans and a couple of would-be anti-Communist crusaders who may or may not have plotted to work with a scraggly band of Hmong in Laos to mount a campaign to overthrow the Laotian government. It's been a big deal here, as Sacramento has a large Hmong community and some of those on trial are prominent in that community here.

The "plot", if we can dignify the comedy of errors described in court documents as something sufficiently organized to be a plot, was difficult to understand from the beginning. It's not uncommon for refugees from other countries to decide that they're going to raise an army and liberate the home country. Anti-Castro Cubans do this on a regular basis. But the government doesn't generally try to entrap them and put them on trial. The FBI goes to the ringleaders, takes the weaponry away and tells them to cool it. End of story.

With the Hmong "plot" though, the government sent an undercover agent to try to sell them all sorts of weaponry and provide mercenaries to enable the group to take over the Laotian government. Uh-huh. And while the plotters were pathetic, it doesn't appear that they did much more than talk until the undercover agent showed up, and since they weren't likely to get the Stinger missiles anyway, the government could easily have used the Cuban Plan to send the plotters back to their regular lives. But nooo. The Bush Administration decided to arrest and prosecute the plotters as terrorists. Oh, please.

However, in building opposition to the prosecution, the Hmong American community raised the "resistance" of somewhere between 200 and 1,000 Hmong who are still -- 40 years after the United States recognized the government of Laos -- living in the jungles there, subsisting on whatever they can find, and launching occasional raids on hapless Laotian villages to augment their diets. In the process they sometimes kill the villagers, which endears them to neither the government nor the villagers.

Enter some local politicians, notably Dave Jones, who will hopefully become California's Insurance Commissioner after next month's election. Now the issue is not whether the US should prosecute every silly little "plot" worked up by the anti-blank refugees, but morphs into a campaign to protect the Hmong remaining in Laotian jungles. At the time I suggested that we should work with the Laotian government to deal with the situation -- get the remaining Hmong out of the jungle and resettle them in Laos or in the United States. I didn't think that Assemblymember Jones was being particularly helpful, and that it might make the Laotian government even angrier with us than they already are.

And they have good reason to be angry. In addition to prosecuting a war against the Pathet Lao that was wrong and immoral, we mined a large portion of the country and have refused to give them more than token assistance in clearing the mines from the Plain of Jars. And what aid we do give them we treat as a big, big favor. But good things can come from the worst stupidities, and people with more influence than I also saw that we could bring the remaining Hmong "resistance" out of the jungle and resettle them. An attempt was made to open negotiations last year, but the Hmong sent Vang Pao, who had commanded the anti-Communist Hmong during the war, as the negotiator. So not a good idea.

But how hard would it be to find a negotiator who had the trust and respect of both sides to settle this problem? I suspect that the US really doesn't care that much, and doesn't want the political fallout from having to take in more refugees from Southeast Asia. To which I can only say that we should be willing to take responsibility for what we did in Laos, be accountable, and accept the consequences. Just like mothers on welfare.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Been Shoppin'

Poor J. After spending a good hour on the Internet finding my datebook for 2011, I decided that I didn't want to spend $6.50 in shipping charges for an $11.00 calendar. Since I didn't find it at the local Staples, I dragged J downtown to Office Max. There it was. Office Max charges $1 more than the online price, but I saved a bundle. I was so proud of myself.

And yes, I use an old-fashioned datebook. I don't have a fancy phone with a built-in calendar program. If I have an appointment to record, I whip out my datebook and a pen and just write it in. It takes a lot less time than dealing with an electronic system, and it never goes down.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Tudors

I became addicted to The Tudors, the Showtime series based loosely on the bad behavior of Henry VIII toward a bunch of women. Like a lot of Showtime's offerings, there's plenty of nudity and sex (although they seem to use the same body doubles over and over), but it's the pretty sets and the jewelry that attracted me--the earrings particularly. (It's well known among my friends that, since I didn't get my ears pierced until I was nearly 40, I regularly check every earring counter in a 20-mile radius for likely purchases. Well, I used to. In the first five years after I got my ears pierced, I acquired a lifetime supply of earrings. So I don't buy too many--only five or six pairs a year.)

If you're looking for historical accuracy, The Tudors is not your thing. Thomas Tallis, who is mostly associated with Elizabeth I's court, appears early enough to have an affair with William Compton, who died in 1528. In order to avoid the confusion of too many Marys to track, Margaret Tudor marries and then kills the King of Portugal. The long sea voyage home enables her to spend a lot of time in bed with Charles Brandon. But the historical Margaret Tudor married James IV of Scotland, while the historical Mary Tudor married Louis XII of France.

But the worst thing about the series isn't the radiator that appears in one scene, the asphalt driveway, or the coach with springs that wouldn't be invented for 300 years. It's that Jonathan Rhys Meyers just doesn't make a convincing Henry VIII. Instead of a monstrous monarch with a huge ego and a cruel streak to match, we get a petulant school boy who won't do his homework. I keep expecting Mary Doyle Kennedy (of The Commitments), who plays Catherine of Aragon, to tell him to shut up, sit down and eat his vegetables. It's not entirely his fault; Keith Michell's Henry VIII (in the BBC series 35 years ago) set the standard, and it would be hard for anyone to measure up.

Sam Neill does a wonderful Wolsey, and an actor I'd never heard of, James Frain, plays Thomas Cromwell. Frain, who remains fully clothed through nigh on three seasons, has the simpering smarminess that one would expect of a Tudor courtier, with just a touch of evil. I thought that he'd make a wonderful vampire, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that Showtime had tapped him for a new role--yup, a vampire. I obviously missed my calling as a casting director.

And because I am the person I am, I took up reading. I'm half through the fifth book of the CJ Sansom Matthew Shardlake series. And I'm reading Ives on Anne Boleyn and Hutchinson on Cromwell.

If you rent The Tudors, you can skip the last disc of Season 4. It's a letdown.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Paradox of Choice

I'm searching for a cane. Well, actually I've searched for, found and ordered a cane. I started searching three days ago. I went to and found 3,068 choices. Yes, 3,068! Luckily, some of the products were canes I didn't want--too expensive, ugly, or having a handle in the form of a skull (in plastic). Others were actually decorative walking sticks, not suitable for someone who might need a cane. So I spent a portion of three days on a $25 purchase, and ended up buying one of the first 15 canes I saw.

But aside from folding aluminum and a few adjustable canes, the fixed-height canes were all 36-37". Fine--if you're a 6' man. But if you're a woman, that cane is likely to be way too long. I'm 5'6", which is relatively tall for a woman, and J is going to have to cut the cane down about 3" so that it's the appropriate height. Even the canes marketed to women were too long.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Foreclosure Documents Mess

I wonder why people are surprised, yes surprised, that the banks and other mortgage holders can't come up with reasonable facsimiles of actual mortgage documents in order to foreclose on hapless homeowners. So they have to make them up. And they don't even do a good job. This kind of thing has been happening to tenants in foreclosed properties for years. Tenants have been evicted with no notice at all--that's why the Cook County Sheriff stopped evicting tenants there--with notice addressed to a resident owner, with notices designed to confuse and obfuscate, of course leaving aside the illegal lockouts, threats and other bad behaviors of realtors and other bank representatives. State Legislatures could have done something about it, but they didn't think tenants were worthy of legally sufficient documents and civilized behavior. Judges who hear unlawful detainer (eviction) actions could have done something about it, but they mostly ignored the problem, as the documents presented to them were, sort of, okay. State Bars could have done something about the lawyers participating in the illegal eviction of tenants but, since the lawyers weren't taking money from the rich, they didn't think it was worth the trouble.

My favorite response to the documents' problem, though, is that of Wells Fargo. When they sell a property out of foreclosure, they require that the new owners sign a document that makes the new owner responsible for any title problems that later turn up. This means that Wells Fargo can foreclose on a property, sell it, and not have the repercussions of any suspect documents come back to haunt them. This means that they have to sell to buyers who don't read, or can't understand, what's put before them. Hmmm, didn't they do this a few years ago?

Update 11/4/10: And now the press has finally noted that tenants have faced eviction without proper notice or service for a long time. See this
. Unfortunately the article doesn't note that attorneys working for the Foreclosures-R-Us services have an obligation to ensure that tenants have received proper notice, and that California courts have largely allowed banks to get away with unlawful evictions by not requiring that lenders show that they have properly identified the residents of foreclosed properties.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

TV School

I've been attending Astronomy 320 on a fairly regular basis. It's really neat, with cool computer graphics to illustrate sun spots, orbits and the like. Oh, except that Channel 16 frequently cuts off the last couple of minutes of lecture. It's not so bad for me, but what if a real student then misses something important--like an assignment. Usually they go to some filler for the ten minutes between my class and the next one, so it's not for some important message.

And generally I don't mind editorial comments, but one irritated me to near distraction. I frankly don't believe that millions of people got up one morning and decided to lie on their mortgage applications. Just so unlikely. Millions of people went to mortgage brokers and banks, and were then encouraged to lie on their mortgage applications, because the banks and mortgage brokers made huge fees--and the largest fees were for the worst mortgages. It's part of the "we all contributed to the crisis" mantra. Hooey.

And now we find
out that the largest number of foreclosures are in lower-income neighborhoods. What a surprise! Uh, poorer people have fewer options and less money, and have to take what's offered to them. Only a few things distinguish me from those of my fellows who took the bait:

1. I'm white, which gives me more options in the rental market.

2. I don't have any children. Studies have shown for a long time that 40-60% of the rental market is closed to families with children. And a landlord is unlikely to get caught discriminating unless (a) he's dumb enough to say that the doesn't want children in the property or (b) he tries to evict a family once they have a child. (In fact, the major case on fair housing for children involved just such a family. The landlord decided to evict when the child was five; by the time the case was decided, he was in high school.)

3. We have good credit. (See 2 above.)

4. We come from the Bay Area, where most people rent and no one thinks anything of it. You're welcomed at the City Council, expected to participate in most neighborhood clean-up days, asked to sign petitions, and can get assistance from politicians and city workers when needed. Here, and in many places outside Coastal California, tenants seem to be the equivalent of child molesters.

So it's not surprising that poorer, nonwhite families with children would decide to leap into the abyss. And it isn't because they're deadbeats or stupid or whatever--it's because they took the best of bad options. And that means that to prevent future debacles we have to look at the real causes of the crisis, and provide real solutions.

This, That and the Other

We've had a remarkably cool summer this year, only a few days over 100 degrees and a lot of days below 90 degrees. The yard should be doing better than it is, but my knees have been a problem all summer, and I've done very little beyond the minimum.

The State of California finally passed a budget, sticking it to poor children and their mothers, the disabled and state workers. The Legislature wasn't willing to tax ATT and Comcast, even though the cable providers got a windfall when the government ordered the switch to digital transmission. Those who had chosen not to get cable or satellite service discovered that their reception was, well, non-existent, and they had to get cable service to receive the standard broadcast signals.

The Governor was particularly incensed that state workers received defined-benefit pensions and sought to increase employee contributions and reduce benefits. In this he succeeded partially, but only by depending on the inability of most people to do third-grade arithmetic. For instance, the "savings" will allegedly be $100 billion in the coming decades. The problem is that said savings will only begin about 25 years from now, and will be reaped over six, seven or eight decades. At that point $100 billion doesn't seem like nearly so much money.

We have a new resident in our yard, Miss Hissy. J discovered her (we have declared her sex, not knowing how to do so with snakes) while clipping ivy and initially thought we might have a rattlesnake in the yard. I called the local 311 service to find out what we should do and was told to leave the snake alone. It would move along on its own. J then did research and discovered that Miss Hissy was, in fact, a gopher snake--entirely harmless to humans.