Monday, March 28, 2011

The Weather

It's been an unusual year. We had more rain in November and December than we've gotten recently. Then January was completely dry. We had our "false Spring" during February, where I could work in the garden without shoes. (Gardening without shoes is something I take seriously. I gardened without shoes much of the year in Oakland and I view having to wear shoes in the garden as one of the things that makes Sacramento appalling.) Then it started raining. And it kept raining. More rain. And still more rain.

Because so much of the soil here is adobe, that means that you can't work the soil. You can't even walk on the soil, as compacting the soil may kill the plants. So I think of the things I need to do and wait for the ground to dry out a bit.

It's supposed to be warm and dry this week. The weeds need pulling.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Peon Is So Smart

Peon noted in an earlier post that the owners of our local NBA team, the Kings, are contemplating a move to Anaheim (in Orange County) because they're in financial trouble and are essentially selling a piece of the team. Well, the details of the agreement between the Maloofs (the Kings' owners) and Anaheim have leaked and, shock of all shocks, I'm right. In the deal the Maloofs get an infusion of $50 million, a good portion of which will go to the NBA for the right to move the team. This leaves about $20 million which, I suspect, is already "spoken for" by other creditors.

This is important for Sacramento because the Kings owe the city some $77 million for the Arco Arena bonds. And we ain't never gonna see a penny from Joe and Gavin. But there's this little part of me that thinks it's a good idea for Sacramento's pundits to see what happens when richer people default on their obligations to poorer folks. Might make them feel differently about pension obligations.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Like Liberals

Some of them are really kind and decent people. But they're clueless about our present predicament. The late Peter Gowan nailed it when he wrote at the end of The Global Gamble,

"Postwar social progress was, it seems, a tactical, aberrant form of European capitalism made necessary by the challenge of Communism. We know now the second half of the sentence whose first half, so strongly believed in 1989, stated: 'Western-style welfare capitalism is better than Eastern Communism...' The second half went unnoticed ten years ago: It reads: '...but Western-style welfare capitalism only existed because of communism.'"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cat Blogging

Once upon a time I considered setting up a blog for the cats. I didn't do it. I decided that it would mean that I had totally succumbed to the culture of Sacramento. I wonder if we'd find that 90% of the people whose cats tweet live in Rocklin and Elk Grove.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Begonia Still Alive!

Not only has it put out two new leaves, it's also developing a new branch. I can't figure out what I'm doing right.

Both J and I have been suffering from what is about to be named "the cold that will not go away." J has it much worse than I do, but is better than he was last week.

Megan McArdle, who writes mostly silliness for The Atlantic, has a piece on the evils of teachers' unions, part of the Republican move to eliminate unions for public sector workers. (I'm absolutely sure that some right-wing racist made similar arguments against the union that the garbage collectors Martin Luther King sought to organize in Memphis in 1968. And we won't even discuss the rights of government workers to organize unions in the Warsaw Pact member nations.)

Interestingly, one of the issues she leaves out altogether is that of tenure as a protection for the free speech rights of teachers. For instance, if your state uses the appalling textbooks that meet the new Texas "standards" for history and social science, you may decide that teaching the life and work of Thomas Jefferson is more important than teaching the beliefs of Phyllis Schlafley. This will get you points among those of us who majored in history and believe that students should head off to college with actual knowledge of historical figures and interpretations of American history that aren't laughable and/or frightening. You don't want some TA at Harvard asking, "who here is from [list of states that use the Texas textbooks]? You'll have to do some extra reading to get up to speed for this course." It's long been true that many university professors believe that American history survey courses are properly titled Iconoclasm I and II, and that was BEFORE the Texas standards were adopted.

So our teacher in Podunk has to make a decision. Does she teach "facts" she knows to be either silly or false? Does she explain that even though the textbook doesn't discuss Thomas Jefferson, she will, and questions about him will be on the test? Without tenure, how does she stand up to parents, the principal or the local school board? She may not keep her job even with tenure, but without it, she's sunk. It's likely that lots of high school history teachers just keep their heads down and go with the flow. But tenure exists to protect those who don't.

The discipline where tenure protection may be most important though is, of all places, biology. When I was in high school, ever so many years ago, evolution was a given. We learned about how life came to be on little planet Earth, how different species evolved, and how, after a really long time, homo sapiens evolved from our ape ancestors. This teaching, standard in the science courses of most of the world, is now controversial, and many biology teachers choose to keep themselves out of trouble by fudging the issue.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Who Knew Regulation Could Save You From Economic Stupidity?

One of Peon's projects is a look at two condominium conversion proposals and how regulation saved one complex from conversion, while another complex was converted--to the distress of all who bought there. I've found a couple of things already. First a lot of converted apartments are not sold to owner-occupiers, but to small investors, so it is not an opportunity for affordable homeownership. Second prices really plummeted, in most cases by at least 50%. Not about 50%. Not almost 50%. At least 50%. Third people who should have bailed in 2007 held on for an amazingly long time, as they watched units sell for less than half what they paid. It made me sad to see people's lives wrecked, and angry that our county government is so irresponsible that they let this happen to people.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A New Leaf

Not one, but two, on my begonia. It's not dead yet!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why Do I Read This Junk?

No, not the latest ravings of Charlie Sheen. David Brooks.

On the subject of modesty, no less. But it's not really about modesty. It's really about Social Security and Medicare. Having beaten the "we shouldn't expect to suck at the government teat" to death, he then moves from the anecdotal to perception studies (always a bit dicey, so far as I can see) to show that Americans think way too much of themselves. I'd suggest though that he go to the typical American high school, where he'd find that the students are just as self-conscious, just as self-critical, just as socially and intellectually insecure, as they were when I was in high school. (My father once said that there should be a sign on the door of every high school in the land reading "You look fine. Stop worrying about it." I told him it wouldn't do any good.)

But having read through the junk we get to what Brooks really wants to talk about.

"Citizenship, after all, is built on an awareness that we are not all that special but are, instead, enmeshed in a common enterprise. Our lives are given meaning by the service we supply to the nation. I wonder if Americans are unwilling to support the sacrifices that will be required to avert financial catastrophe in part because they are less conscious of themselves as components of a nation."

Oh, puleese. What Brooks and his ilk really want is to have Boomers give up Social Security and Medicare so that taxes on the Peter Petersons of the world don't increase. For some reason the rich aren't required to be "components of a nation" or "engage in the common enterprise." They've already done enough by crashing the financial system. And they're doing even more now by taking government money at 0% and lending it back to the government at 3.5%.

What Brooks fails to point out is that the Boomers prefunded their own Social Security. That's what the trillion dollars in the trust fund is all about. And now the Peter Petersons of the world don't want to be taxed to pay that money back. Where's Peterson's modesty?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

More Cat Bliss

At some times of year the sunbeam travels across the pillow in the morning, providing full sun while reclining on the bed.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tenants and the Tea Party

Dean Preston, Executive Director of Tenants Together, reported on the suggestion by Judson Phillips, president of Tea Party Nation, that tenants should not be allowed to vote, as we don't have the same vested interest in our communities that homeowners do. Numerous studies funded by the real estate industry have shown that to be true, and also that homeowners have children who perform better in school, are more involved in their communities, and are just generally more attractive than tenants. (Okay, I made that last part up.) The only problem is that research conducted by uninterested parties has found that tenants are just as attractive as homeowners. No, really. Once you correct for one very obvious variable (security of tenure), most of the differences between tenants and homeowners disappear. Tenants who remain in a community for long periods are just as likely to show up for community clean-up day as homeowners. And they're somewhat more likely to participate in citywide community groups. They're somewhat less likely, though, to participate in NIMBY organizations, for what should be obvious reasons. The main point should be, however, that allegedly serious studies didn't correct for an important variable; I thought they taught that in Statistics I.

But because I'm, as someone once described me, "bent", it occurred to me that tenants might take the deal. Given what we get from our local, state and federal officials, tenants might be willing to give up voting in exchange for our tax monies. Remember--no taxation without representation. So if we don't have representation, we don't have to pay taxes. Hmmm.

And as for the Kings, I really don't care much whether they stay or go. Apparently the Maloofs really need a cash infusion, so they're essentially selling a piece of the team. But I do know one teacher who's going to lose one of his long-standing examples with the Kings' move.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

In Progress

I'd intended to stay away from economic issues for awhile, believing that I was getting away from the main purpose of this blog, which was to bore my friends and acquaintances with the vicissitudes of my daily life, sort of like Twitter updates on my lunch, but not so frequently. But there's been a bunch of stuff happening and I want to comment on it all--the Wisconsin crisis, the attack on pensions (which seems to have become a daily event at the Sacramento Bee), and even a few words on Libya, which is one of the more interesting crises of the Middle East, insofar as it's not just a distraction from what's happening in Yemen. In addition I'm completing a long-standing project on condominium conversions in Sacramento during the recent bubble. But I intend to do some serious writing on these subjects, and that takes more than 15 minutes.

J took this picture of the Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding. I'm trying to convince J to take me back so that I can see the arboretum there. It wasn't open yet the last time we were there.