Monday, December 22, 2014

A Few Comments on Cuba Silliness

I'm way too lazy to do an organized post on some of the silliness being written about Cuba since the Obama Administration decided to recognize the Cuban government.  First up is the argument by the right wing that we didn't get the Cuban government to give up their Revolution in exchange for recognition.  Yeah, we demanded that for 50 some odd years, and that was never going to happen.  The Cubans are perfectly happy to establish diplomatic relations with us, but they aren't going to dismantle the Revolution for it. Sensibly the Obama Administration and the Cuban government did a prisoner exchange instead.

Next up, the Cuban economy is not going to change in any major ways because we've established diplomatic relations.  If the embargo is lifted, Cuba will gain about $2-5 billion a year (the estimate of the cost to the Cuban economy of the embargo).  That's nice money, but it's not like winning the lottery.

Moving right along, Cubans were happy to see diplomatic relations re-established.  First the remaining Cuban Five were released from prison, a big issue for Cuba.  Second they won.  Yeah, they'd won a long time ago, but the US finally admitted that they'd won.  One lesson though: Cubans do not take kindly to the American government mucking about in their politics.  Those who have taken money from the US have been entirely discredited, not just in the eyes of the government but more importantly, in the eyes of the Cuban people.  The people who take money from the US government for nefarious purposes end up emigrating because they have no credibility in Cuba.

Fourth, this won't enable the US to take over Cuba, no matter what some people hope and others fear.  Cuba is a politically developed country, and they suffered the worst economic collapse of any country in the world since the Great Depression in the 1990s. The government didn't fall then, and it ain't gonna happen now.  Get a grip.

And yeah, the Cubans don't have a great human rights record.  But we installed and supported governments that make the Castro brothers look like human rights activists. And remember that the US has more political prisoners in Cuba than the Cuban government does.

Finally, Americans who lost property in Cuba are unlikely to see any compensation.  In particular, the corporations that "bought" property after the Spanish-American War shouldn't even ask for compensation.  What happened was that, during the US occupation, American banks (especially National City Bank) refused to lend money to Cuban landowners, forcing the sale of many properties at fire-sale prices to American investors. The Cubans view that as a national theft, and the US would be well-advised not to remind the them of it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It's About @#$%^&* Time

We have to give President Obama credit for finally doing what needed to be done.  No, not figuring out how to deal with ISIS without getting more people killed, not deciding that some badly-behaved bankers and other Wall Street types should don prison jumpsuits, but simply for recognizing that the little Republic of Cuba should be recognized formally after 50 years of trying to make them cry 'uncle'.  It never worked. They never did.

As others have already noted, Obama wants a legacy, and he doesn't have much on offer. This will definitely make it into the history books, after the long chapters detailing the stupid and brutal policy toward our near neighbor.  Clinton will most likely get the worst rap for beating up on them when they were down--1993--and for signing Helms-Burton which, by the way, prevents Obama from lifting the embargo and establishing diplomatic relations in one go.

Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada is most likely smiling sweetly to himself, as he noted in 1996 that it would be 20 years before the embargo was lifted. He's probably right.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Winter Solstice Bush



We have obtained the winter solstice bush, and J is putting the lights on now. The solstice is at 3:03 PM on Sunday, and we will turn the tree topper from the moon side to the sun side then.


They Are Bipartisan--And Clueless

Turnout in the late election didn't surprise me one bit.  The Democrats touted the economic recovery, which left most of the poorest 65% looking about and saying "huh?", before sitting down to figure out how to pay the rent this month.  As in most "recoveries" since 1981, the economy has done well, while the vast majority haven't.

I don't read David Brooks very often, but was taken by this construction of his world:

Today we once again have a sharp social divide between people who live in the “respectable” meritocracy and those who live beyond it. In one world almost everybody you meet has at least been to college, and people have very little contact with features that are sometimes a part of the other world: prison, meth, payday loans, a flowering of nonmarriage family forms. In one world, people assume they can control their destinies. In the other, some people embrace the now common motto: “It don’t make no difference.”

Widening class distances produce class prejudice, classism. This is a prejudice based on visceral attitudes about competence. People in the “respectable” class have meritocratic virtues: executive function, grit, a capacity for delayed gratification. The view about those in the untouchable world is that they are short on these things. They are disorganized. They are violent and scary. This belief has some grains of truth because of childhood trauma, the stress of poverty and other things. But this view metastasizes into a vicious, intellectually lazy stereotype. Before long, animalistic imagery is used to describe these human beings.


Leaving aside the disclaimer of the final sentence above, it's interesting that his construction of the world has the rest of us in daily contact with prison, meth, payday loans and single parenthood.  I know many people who aren't part of his delayed gratification crowd who have no experience of prison or meth, and little of payday loans. Single parenthood crosses class lines, and while more poor men can't be part of their families, it's not some personal defect, but the result of economic realities.  Further, I've seen plenty of the families on my side of the class divide delaying gratification for decades.

I have come to expect this kind of silliness from both sides of the political divide.  Vice-President Biden's Middle Class Task Force, for instance, defined the middle class as:

…a combination of values, expectations, and aspirations, as well as income levels. Middle class families and those aspiring to be part of the middle class want economic stability, a home and a secure retirement. They want to protect their children’s health and send them to college. They also want to own cars and take family vacations. However, aspirations alone are not enough; middle class families know that to achieve these goals they must work hard and save.

If we look at the people presumptively left out of this definition, we get those who live in a world of prison, meth, payday loans and so on.  And of course, those in the middle class have grit and a capacity for delayed gratification (read: work hard and save).  You almost want to organize a field trip for those who not only utter this smug, self-serving, sanctimonious twaddle, but write it down and publish it.  How hard can these people really be working  if what they write is such nonsense?  You want to sentence them all to a week helping a home health aide change adult diapers and then living on her wages. Then they'd really understand hard work and delayed gratification.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Retirement

J reminded me this morning that he's been officially retired for two years today.  And he really likes it, even though he's spent enough time on our computer problems lately that it most likely feels like he's back at work.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Peter Pan Live

What a waste of three hours.  We should have read and listened to Christmas music or watched Gravity on DVD.  (Yes, we're old, we watch DVDs.)  But J had seen the Mary Martin production in 1955 and I thought it would be a nostalgia trip for him.  But you can never go back to being a child again, and the story itself is thin and more than a little racist.  Why not cast the "natives" as Amazons or something, anything, rather than try to tidy up the racism of the original story.

First, three hours!  There's very little that will hold your attention for three hours, and Peter Pan is not even in the running.  Second, every time something happened, they cut to a series of commercials, a lot of commercials, so whatever magic might have been there got lost in the anti-magic of Walmart.

When you're making a musical, it's important to cast people who can sing really well.  Not just good enough, not just adequately.  And for the most part, the actors cast in the major roles couldn't sing.  The exceptions, Kelli O'Hara (Mrs. Darling) and Taylor Louderman (Wendy) were notable, and we sat up and took notice.  Christopher Walken started out as camp, but seemed to lose interest, or get tired, half way through the performance.  Allison Williams wasn't bad, but certainly is not headed for greatness, and there must have been some nepotism at work in casting Brian Williams' daughter in the role.

If NBC does another Live performance, I'll probably just skip it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson

You wonder about the stupidity of government officials in Missouri.  I mean, let's decide to have a secret proceeding.  Then let's declare a state of emergency weeks before anything happens.  Then let's call out the National Guard.  What were these people thinking?  How dumb could they be?

Well, I'm not sure they were that dumb.  What if they were trying to obscure the issues that are just as important as the shooting?  For instance, the bad behavior generally of the police in Ferguson--their bad habit of stopping African Americans for any reason, or no reason at all, their excessive fines and fees that provide most of the budget for the Police Department there, and so on.

More important, these kinds of behaviors aren't limited to Ferguson, or to Missouri, for that matter.  California is a leader in increasing fees for minor infractions to fund the government.  Fees can be increased easily, while increasing taxes requires supermajorities.  And because police patrol low-income neighborhoods much more intensively, they're much more likely to catch people making California stops, crossing against the light and the like.

In the private sector we have payday lenders, in the public sector the petty justice system, both inclined to part poor people from their meager incomes.

Update:  The Onion gets it in a paragraph.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

It's Over, It's Done, Get Past It

The rights of gays and lesbians to marry is settled.  Those who oppose gay marriage should settle down and accept it.  Don't spend your time being like Alabama, which didn't repeal its law against interracial marriage until 2000.  It was unenforceable, as all laws against interracial marriage had been overturned by Loving v. Virginia in 1967, but Alabamans apparently wanted to wallow in their racism, and left the law on the books.

And if you look at this map, you'll find that the Supreme Court will probably have to get rid of the same-sex marriage bans in the very same states that kept their interracial marriage bans until Loving overturned them.  And it's worth noting that California is again in the middle of the pack, not the last, but certainly not the first, as its ban on interracial marriage was overturned in a court case in 1948, with the Legislature repealing the law in 1959.  (Many eastern states ended their bans in the 19th century, and a few states never banned interracial marriage.)

But it's not true that if your state didn't have a ban on interracial marriage, it's also progressive on same-sex marriage.  Kansas, for instance, which fought the Civil War for some years before the rest of the country, banned same-sex marriage in 2004.  However, 8 of the 17 states that never had interracial marriage bans also allows some form of same-sex marriage or civil unions.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Yes on Prop. 45

I'm always amazed at the willingness of the punditry to accept dumb arguments when they're made by rich people.  The arguments against Prop. 45 are right up there with the argument landlord groups made during the foreclosure crisis, which was that the tenant in a soon-to-be-foreclosed property shouldn't get a copy of the Notice of Default, since that violated the landlord's privacy rights.  Huh?  The Notice of Default is a public record ferhevensake.  What it would have done was to give tenants an early warning that the landlord was in trouble, and a tenant might decide to move, rather than deal with the inconvenience and hassle of the landlord's foreclosure.  I expect this kind of silliness in landlord-tenant battles.  There's no argument too stupid to make and there's no argument too silly for the Legislature to accept.

The arguments against Proposition 45 are just as silly.  What Proposition 45 would do is to allow our elected Insurance Commissioner to reject health insurance rate increases that the Commissioner found to be excessive.  That's what the Commissioner does now with car and property insurance, and it has saved Californian oodles of money.  But the health insurers are looking at that, and looking at Dave Jones, the present Commissioner, and throwing fits.  So is Covered California, which is, shock of all shocks, making the same arguments that the health insurance industry is making.  Wow, it's only been in existence for a year, and it's already too cozy with its industry!

So far as I can see, the arguments against it are two.  The first is that, somehow, having rate regulation will increase rates.  I don't think so.  It didn't raise rates for other insurance, and it hasn't done so in the 35 or so other states that do allow rate regulation. Their second argument is that we could get an Insurance Commissioner who is too cozy with the industry and would allow excessive increases.  Yes, you did just suffer whiplash.

What they're really afraid of is Dave Jones, who has been a very good Commissioner, and would probably scrutinize rates pretty closely.  He might also look at other bad habits of the health insurance industry like, oh for instance, classifying all drugs for a particular health condition as high-tier, requiring larger copays, in an attempt to discourage patients with particular pre-existing conditions, just like the bad old days.  One of Covered California's problems is that the Insurance Commissioner might get involved with plan benefits but, with bad behavior like this and the cozier-by-the-day relationship between CC and the insurance industry, we can only hope that would be true.

It's true that we could get a bad Commissioner--Chuck Quackenbush comes to mind--but I think the industry is more concerned that, given the direct impact on their lives, voters might elect a string of pro-consumer Commissioners.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Smart Phone

Yes, the phone is still smarter than I am, but I'm learning to use it.  I don't need to use the 4G that much because I have wifi at home and Comcast seems to have it everywhere.  In particular, I use it to do a quick check of my email when I don't feel like turning on the computer.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Be Still, My Ego

Someone I don't know has actually signed up to get my blog on some kind of feed.  I guess I should be flattered that someone wants to read me. Well, I am flattered.  Welcome, Reader.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bumbling About the Internet

This morning I spent a few minutes looking at how the Arab world looks at ISIS.  After all, it's not likely that the United States will become a caliphate, but many Arabs are already looking at the rule of the Caliphate.  Not surprisingly, there's a good deal of ridicule out there.  One rather amateurish Palestinian production suggests that only Israel will benefit from ISIS.  Another much better piece notes that ISIS won't take over Lebanon, as they need a functioning government to overthrow.

I'm amazed, though, that our pundit class has failed to notice that (a) a lot of people in the Arab world are going to be seriously unwilling to take the hit for us and (b) that in the complicated politics of the Arab world, we're way out of our competence.  ISIS seems to have a lot more competence, having already cut a deal with the moderate Islamists in Syria that the US was planning to fund.  And why would the Saudis, who share much of the ISIS vision, be willing to help defeat ISIS, and help Iran in the bargain?  And Israel is already complaining that the struggle with ISIS will strengthen Iran.

Friday, September 12, 2014

My Phone is Smarter than I Am

My stupid phone was at my level of competence.  I can't figure out how to enter contacts, how to get rid of errors, how do do anything.  A steep learning curve and a bunch of reading the manual.

Update: For some reason this is one of my most popular posts in months. Are other people afraid of their phones too?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

ISIS Has One Mother

The United States.  No, let's not blame it on NATO or Shiites in Iraq or anyone else.  ISIS would never have existed in Syria and Iraq but for our incompetent aggression.  Whenever I think of this mess, I am reminded of what should be Fidel Castro's most famous line, when informed of the selection of George W. as President--"[w]e can only hope he is not as stupid as he appears."

Monday, September 1, 2014

Technology Upgrades

We'll be learning new technology this month, as I'm getting both a new laptop (this one has the slooows) and my first Smartphone.  J has chosen to stay with his dumb phone.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Outside Agitators

Whenever I hear that unrest in a community is the result of "outside agitators," I am reminded of a story about Da Nang in Viet Nam in 1946. Two organizers from the Indochinese Communist Party were sent to organize the population there and sparked a series of riots in which the population took the stores of rice being guarded by the government.  The French blamed the communists, of course.

Now first, one should be intrigued by the competence of an organization that can spark riots by sending two people.  They must have been really good.

But then one should check out the backstory.  What was going on that led the population to riot?  We find that the French colonials were selling rice to the Occupation forces in Japan.  They had bought up all of the rice, leaving nothing for the starving population.  In one of the usual colonial acts of insensitivity, the French had the rice guarded by the Japanese prisoners of war who had been captured in the region.  The population of Da Nang was starving, and there should be some doubt that the Indochinese Communist Party was, independent of the legitimate anger of the local citizenry, so good as to bring about a demonstration, let alone rioting.

But now we find that outside agitators have come to Ferguson.  We are already finding out that the spark was the killing of Michael Brown, but the poor and black population of Ferguson had a number of long-standing issues with their local police, whether or not the cops were dressed for battle in Iraq, and that much of the municipal government's budget was raised from petty harassment of the African American citizenry. Remember that Michael Brown was first stopped for jaywalking, one of those lovely little discretionary citations that raises money for the local government.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What the F#@&?

Recently Cuba has been in the news.  Once it became clear that the demise of the Soviet Union wasn't going to collapse the Cuban government, and Fidel Castro retired (which never occurred as a possibility to anyone in the extensive spy/analyst community), Cuba dropped off the radar, except for the every-15-year-or-so "young people are disillusioned with the revolution" campaign.  But Cuba has popped up several time in the last few years, in circumstances embarrassing to the US government.

In several recent incidents USAID-funded programs have been caught trying to infiltrate Cuba and turn the rebellious youth against the government.  But before that we have the case of Alan Gross, who has been working for USAID since at least 2004, when he delivered a video camera to a Cuban Freemason, who turned out to be a government agent. So when Gross came back to deliver various technologies to Cuba's Jewish community, the Cubans had been following him for years.  One would think that Cuban DGI just got very lucky, but that isn't true.

We've been spying on Cuba since the Revolution in 1959, and they've been setting us up since 1959.  And we know this.  In 1987 a Cuban defector reported that every blessed agent the CIA thought it had recruited was a double agent.  Some of the stories in the Cuban press at the time indicated that the Cuban government was sending out potential agents to be recruited.  In one case the head of Cuba's medical operation in Maputo, Mozambique, was first approached when he went to a meeting in Mexico. He returned to Cuba and was "prepared for recruitment."  Yeah, they dangled, we bit.  The good doctor then headed off to Mozambique and spent his off-time hanging out in bars, complaining that the Cuban medical system required that he spend more time on Marxism-Leninism than on anatomy and physiology.  Oh, puleese.  Are we really that stupid? Apparently so.

Clinton tried to re-start our spying program in 1994, but it went so badly that it was shut down a few months later.  Cuban agents videotaped alleged diplomats (and sometimes their wives) delivering radios and the like to drops at 3:00 A.M.  I'm sure there was some reasonable explanation for this, but I've yet to hear it.

Time passes.  In 1998 Ricardo Alarcon gave an interview in which he noted that dissidents could do anything they wanted except advocate for return of the exiles or take money from the US government.  No more than two months after the interview, President Bill announced that the US would begin sending resources to the dissidents.  And unless diplomats were going to carry cans of peas in their luggage, that meant we'd be sending money.  Which we did.  We sent the money through Canada to Marta Beatriz Roque, a well-known dissident, for distribution to others. Distribute she did, and her secretary kept records of the distribution.  In 2003 when the dissidents were arrested and tried for taking money from the US, the secretary, a government agent, testified for the prosecution. The case was a slam dunk.

What this did, aside from getting a bunch of ineffectual people sentenced to long prison terms (most have since been released), was to entirely discredit the dissident movement, as many of them had claimed they had not, and would never, take money from the US government.  So our government went looking around for other opportunities.  And came upon Cuban youth.

First up was the ZunZuneo operation.  Cuban youth liked it, not because it was a USAID project, but because it was very cheap.  After some twists and turns, ZunZuneo was shut down, much to the consternation of the young people who used it.  Then we moved along to our latest debacle, where we sent young people from other Latin American countries to sow dissent under the cover of of an HIV-prevention project.  Now it's all well and good to engage in HIV prevention but, from what I can gather, there's hardly a 12-year-old kid in Cuba who doesn't know about HIV prevention and hasn't seen the condom-on-a-banana demonstration.  There are lots of countries that could really use sex education assistance, but Cuba isn't one of them.

I wonder what they'll come up with next.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Iraq

Peon did not support the war in Iraq.  She was clear on that.  She attended demonstrations against it.  She had read books on Iraq during the First Iraq War and knew that Iraq was very complicated.  She did not like Saddam, who delighted in knocking off members of the Iraqi Communist Party and other leftists, as well as, so far as she could see, anyone else he didn't like.  In the run-up to the Second Iraq War, she also read up and found that it was unlikely that the Iraqis had any weapons of mass destruction.  In particular, the nuclear weapons program was dead. Why?  Because nuclear weapons require a lot of money and the Iraqis didn't have any money.  See, so easy.  Doesn't require any "inside" information--just a little bit of thinking.

And Peon was more than a little irritated when, after killing lots of people and spending lots of money, VSPs decided that the war had been A Bad Idea.  How about illegal?  How about immoral?

But now that the government we left in Iraq appears to be collapsing, the VSPs want to drop some more bombs.  More shock and awe?  More precision-guided weaponry?  They've got to be kidding.  C'mon guys (and they are almost all guys), you screwed up. You made a hash of it.  You made Saddam look good, and that took some doing.  No amount of bombing is going to fix this mess.  Instead go off to one of those fancy resorts and do a goodly amount of soul-searching.  Think about the mess you made and resolve, over lobster and fois gras, not to do it again.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Summer Reading

This year I'll be participating in the local library's summer reading program.  Once upon a time this was a program to keep kids reading over the school break, but adults expressed interest and so it came to be that adults were allowed to participate.  There are prizes, but I'm really more interested in tracking my reading and forcing myself to read some serious books.  It's okay to have a lot of trashy mysteries on the list, but I should read some books that require more attention than watching TV.  I'm not counting garden books, as those are mostly pictures and it's okay to do picture books if you're five, but not if your less than a year from sixty.

In figuring out what to read, I'm going to look at some classics that I've somehow never gotten round to reading.  First up will be Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which I should have read as a young person, but never did.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Roger Dickinson Just Lost Two Votes

Our local State Senate race has two major candidates, both presently serving in the State Assembly.  I had planned to vote for Roger Dickinson over Richard Pan, simply because Dickinson was one of 13 to vote for a bill that would have protected tenants against nefarious lenders who were trying to evict tenants in foreclosed properties.  But by voting for AB 1513 he's lost all his tenants' rights' cred and then some.

AB 1513 takes away the tenant protections of the Homeowners' Bill of Rights.  It allows a landlord to evict tenants who are allegedly "squatting" without benefit of court hearing, simply on the declaration of the landlord. The tenant has no way to show that she is a legitimate tenant except by obtaining a statement from the landlord who is trying to evict her.  Huh?

The five of you who actually read my blog (three of whom are relatives) will recall that I have been dealing with tenants in foreclosed properties for a long time (since the end of 2007) and have heard from legions of tenants who suffered abuse at the hands of of lenders, as well as abuse by those who purchased foreclosed properties.  Many of them had not done their due diligence--and didn't know that the former owner had rented out the property.  Some of them were just ill-behaved, and thought they could frighten the tenants out of the house.

Worse than just general bad behavior, a tenant with a signed lease has no recourse unless the landlord agrees that the resident is a tenant.  So a foreclosing lender or the purchaser of a foreclosed property can claim that the resident is not a legal tenant, evicting the tenant within 48 hours. Tenants with oral leases are in even more trouble, although in other circumstances, they could prove they were legal tenants.  (Evidence might include utility bills addressed to the tenant, a driver's license showing the address as the tenant's residence and so on.)  But the local constabularies didn't want to have to take on what is essentially a judicial function (examining and verifying documents), so they did the quick and dirty, and assumed that landlords were upstanding citizens and tenants are a bunch of low-lifes who deserve what we get.

And of course, there are no consequences for landlords who evict tenants wrongfully. Judges in California are loath to give tenants damages in disputes with their landlords, and the Legislature has not seen fit (of course) to compensate tenants who might be harmed by, say, requiring that a landlord who was found to have evicted tenants pay them a substantial sum in compensation--I'm thinking in six figures to the left of the decimal point.

There's sure to be Green running.  Vote Green.

Addendum 5/18/14:  Oh, my dear comrades, it gets worse.  Here's how and why. Deutsche Bank lost a case.  In the case at hand the tenant was unceremoniously evicted by Deutsche Bank's loan servicer, Ocwen, with no notice and with the co-operation of the local constabulary.  (The horror of a marriage between Ocwen and Deutsche Bank is a subject for another day, but suffice it to say that the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has gone after Ocwen for its dirty dealing.  Should you want to read up on their bad behavior toward homeowners, go here.)  Would anything stop a foreclosing lender from simply signing the statement that there were no tenants at the property?  That's right--help the banks continue their bad behavior.  Maybe we should just call it the Deutche Bank bill.

In addition, now that property values are moving up, lenders are looking to take back properties, many of them investor-owned, that weren't worth the trouble when the market collapsed.  But they don't want to have to deal with, you know, tenants who live at the property.

Oh, there's no Green running.  Just Vote No.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me



I'll be 59 tomorrow.

Thomas Friedman is Always an Idiot

And he demonstrates this again here, where he interviews someone who says that people who major in English don't have the analytic thinking skills of those who major in computer science.  But we know from actual studies--you know, the kind that require analysis--that the only college students who gain in critical thinking skills (analysis being one of those) are those who major in fields like literature, history and philosophy.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Spring Plants

Spring started springing a month ago, but I haven't been posting lately, so I am behind. I've discovered that my plant palette has changed since we moved to Sacramento from Oakland.  I'm not sure if it's the greater difficulty of getting things to live here or that my plant interests have changed.  My garden is much more deciduous, both because some plants that had leaves year round in Oakland die back here, and because I've developed a weird interest in trees.  I have five Japanese maples and a redbud in pots.  And I took up lilac and mock orange, both of which are deciduous.  (In fact, someone recommended against lilac, which looks like a bunch of dead sticks when it loses its leaves.  I think of him all winter--every time I look at the bunch of dead sticks that is my lilac.)  I've also developed a thing for deciduous azaleas and have two of them.

This means that Spring springs more than it did in Oakland.  My yard goes from a sad, sorry, neglected space to a leafy, green hodgepodge in less than a month.  



This is my Apple Blossom kurume azalea.  It bloomed all at once and then lost its flowers just as quickly.













I meant to cut back this pelargonium before it bloomed, but didn't get around to it, and it started blooming on the leggy bits, of course, so I live with a leggy plant.












And my baby redbud had some redbuds this year.










And one of the laceleaf Japanese maples.  This one is about three years old.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rent Control and Boston

Having control of the press is a good thing for those who control the press.  It means that you get to write whatever silliness you want over and over, and no one ever contradicts you.  One of my personal favorites is that eliminating rent control will fix the housing market.  Yes, when tenants are at the mercy of the not-so-free market and the rentier class can maximize its profits, all will be well.  Builders will build, landlords will improve their properties etc. etc.

One wonders then why the industry doesn't point to the example of Boston, where rent control was ended by state initiative in the mid-1990s.  Rents increased by 75% over the course of the next decade.  But little rental housing was constructed.  The industry had an answer for that one.  It was the housing bubble, and developers prioritized condos.  Then the housing bubble popped and nothing was built.  But now we have a resurgence in rental construction, yes, for the luxury market.  Developers are hoping to push rents to the next level.  In fact, they've built so much luxury housing that there's a glut of stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

Now I suppose we should await the trickle-down.  Don't hold your breath.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book List

This has been floating around the Internet, so I took the test.  I'd read 68 of the books, far more than the expected 6.  But I did note that this is a list for my generation.  Two books that would have been required in my parents' generation--Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and George Eliot's Silas Marner--are nowhere to be found.  Now I've prosecuted a decades-long campaign to eradicate Silas Marner from required reading lists (and no, I'm not responsible for its demise), but I see no reason why Canterbury Tales shouldn't be required reading.  But then I have a special connection to the Wife of Bath.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

News of All Sorts

I have a reader in Britain.  My reader is a regular reader.  My regular reader must be often disappointed when s/he checks in and finds that I haven't posted for weeks.  I am sorry, regular reader.  I will try to do better.  My regular reader checks in more often than my husband.  My regular reader is more loyal.  I wish I knew what my regular reader wants to read.  I would try to oblige.

Spring has already sprung.  My corydalis have put up their feathery fronds. My geraniums are budding.  So is my lilac, which makes me happy, as a dormant lilac looks like nothing so much as a bunch of dead sticks.  My bleeding heart, which I thought was dead, is not.  I didn't get 'round to cutting back the pelargoniums, and one of them is blooming on the old stems.  I haven't the heart to cut them off.

Matt Taibbi is leaving Rolling Stone.  He was the main reason for reading Rolling Stone. He's the guy who described Goldman Sachs as a "vampire squid" and explained the LIBOR scandal.  They'll probably replace him with more "100 Greatest..." lists.  Hey, people who read Rolling Stone probably know who most of the 100 greatest guitarists are already. Sigh.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Quitting

Much has been made of the Congressional Budget Office report that Obamacare may encourage people to quit their jobs.  This is of concern because it may reduce productivity, and Republicans are quite sure that those who quit their jobs will take up reclining on the sofa, eating bon bons, and watching Judge Judy on TV.  Now it is possible that some who quit their jobs will do just that.  But many more people will find something to do that they enjoy more.  One woman quit her job and takes full-time care of her granddaughter so that her daughter, a single mother, can work.  Now anyone who has ever done so knows that taking full-time care of a young child is much more difficult than reclining on the sofa.  It's even more difficult than paid employment.

Now most people won't quit their jobs for the health insurance subsidy. High-wage workers, for instance, don't receive any subsidy.  Many of them also have employer-paid insurance as well.  So we needn't worry that doctors, lawyers and accountants will suddenly decide that a life of leisure is preferable to work.  Single people, with or without children, are unlikely to quit their jobs, although some of them may go from full- to part-time work, depending on how the subsidy works for them.

Who will quit their jobs or reduce their hours?

--Working poor couples with young children, where the partner who works for health insurance makes less than it costs for childcare, or the couple has to stagger their work hours and they don't see each other awake for days at a time.

--Older couples without health insurance, where the cost outside of subsidy is prohibitive.  Also older singles may cut their work hours to remain within subsidy for the same reason.

--People who hate their jobs and decide that they don't have to stay because the job provides health benefits.

What's interesting about all these groups is that they are generally regarded as part of the less productive hoi  polloi, those who make lower wages because they are less productive than the doctors, lawyers and others whose productivity justifies their high wages. Indeed one would think that it might be good, if they are so unproductive, for them to quit their jobs.  We'd have less traffic, less air pollution and such, so the productivity loss might be offset by environmental and other savings. Some people who quit might work at the local food bank, senior center, or other worthy endeavor.  Others might take up art projects that we might view as unfortunate.

But might it be that they are underpaid rather than unproductive, that the loss of productivity might cost more to the overall economy than the loss of an equivalent number of, say, bankers?  If that's true, there's a simple solution--a pay raise.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lunch

I don't usually report on my lunch, as I think most people aren't interested.  Not only that, we almost always have simple sandwiches or leftovers at home.  There's not much to excite anyone there.  But yesterday Friend A and I went out to lunch, and Mother's is to be highly recommended.  It's new, so there was a line, but it wasn't down the block.  Some people might be put off by the fact that it's vegetarian (with a few vegan items), but my only objection to vegetarian restaurants is that they try to make things "taste like chicken."  Why?  If you're a vegetarian restaurant, stand up proudly for vegetables.

That's what Mother's does.  There is nothing anyone would claim tastes like chicken.  But there are very good vegetarian dishes.  I had the Capitol Cobb Salad, with avocado dressing (I'd have licked the dish, were that not inappropriate) with various winter vegies and the best falafel I have ever eaten in my life.  In fact, I wished they served falafel as a sandwich or side dish.  Friend A had the Carrot Nut Burger, and her only criticism was that the bun wasn't sturdy enough for the filling, and she had to eat it with a fork.  We also had very good cookies for dessert.

It's a small place, and the tables are close together, so I was able to examine the choices of my fellow diners.  No, I did not ask them for a taste.  But I would suggest that those inclined to try the restaurant order a salad or sandwich, and then share a couple of the small side dishes.  The chicken-fried mushrooms looked particularly good.  And try the lemonade, with a mild infusion of lavendar.

Today I'm having a ham and cheese sandwich on toasted sourdough.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Kashkari

I had been thinking of doing a blog post on one of the sorry Republicans running for Governor, but Matt Taibbi did a much better job than I ever could have, so go here and read.  Then if you must, remember that the other guy running forgot that he had a gun in his carry-on luggage at the airport.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Once Upon a Time

It used to be that employers would, when firing someone, laying people off or closing their business, would give two weeks' notice.  Employees were also asked to give two weeks' notice when leaving their jobs.  There were no laws requiring this, absent union contracts, but most everyone did it.  This changed in the 1980s, when the mergers-and-acquisitions people decided that it was easier when moving jobs somewhere else, to skip the notice.  Workers would arrive at their place of employment to discover that they no longer had jobs, and then be escorted into said place of employment under guard to recover their personal effects.  Such behavior was so gracious and charming that laws were passed requiring employers of large numbers of people to give the community 60 days' notice that the business was closing.

But the tacky behavior spread throughout the land, and now businesses all over the place close down without a word to the employees.  They're notified by email that they no longer have a job, or they find a note tacked to the door when they report for work. Three restaurants have closed in recent months here, and two of them gave no notice to the employees in advance.  Given that restaurant work doesn't pay much, most of the employees probably didn't have much in savings to tide them over while searching for a new job, so these employers have a lot of bad karma to work off.  One restaurateur, Adam Pechal, did give his workers notice and, not only that, two weeks' notice.  While commendable, given the behavior of the other two, this used to be standard practice.

I cannot help but think that the demise of unions, in addition to crashing wages for the majority, also enabled employers large and small to make their contribution to the current meanness of our world.  Notice that your job is disappearing is such a little thing, one would think.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Auto-Pay

Some months ago I received a telephone call from my "personal banker" at the local branch of my bank.  Now my balance is unworthy of a personal banker, so I was amused at the prospect of a personal banker actually helping me with investments.  But he did do one useful thing for me, which was to help me sign up for online access to my bank account.  I check in every few days to see what's going on with our account--how much J spent at the grocery store, whether checks have cleared, whether J's automatic deposits have been received and so on.  I can also check our monthly spending, but that's pretty worthless, as it all depends on when checks clear.  My landlord deposited the rent check before the first, so it shows up in December spending, rather than January.

My "personal banker" also suggested that I check out "auto-pay", which would allow me to pay bills without having to write a check.  This sounded like fun, so I investigated it.  And was disappointed.  In most cases, my creditors allow only the auto-pay that allows them to pull money from my account, rather than the auto-pay that allows me to push money to them. Now I don't give strangers access to my bank account.  I don't even give friends and family access to my bank account.  So giving someone the right to pull money from my account was not going to happen.

And I was disappointed to find that, in most cases, a push auto-pay just meant that the bank wrote a check and sent it off the the creditor.  Gee, I can do that myself, and have been since 1972.  Worse, as I discovered by reading up on the Internet, the money is taken from my account when the check is written, not when it is cashed, so I have no proof that it was received.  When the creditor either cashes the check or converts it to ACH, I know that they're received the funds.  It's proof that they were paid.  (Frankly, I'm not concerned that I lose the money a few days early, as I don't have the money in an interest-bearing account.  Our interest-bearing account pays 0.03% interest at this point.)

I can't figure out any reason for this, except that creditors may have to pay to receive push ACH payments and are too cheap to do so.  Given that, they can receive a check and convert it to ACH or take it to the bank and deposit it.  Most irritating, though, is the new way landlords have devised to eke more money out of tenants.  Some landlords now want to be able to pull auto-pay payments from their tenants' bank accounts.  And they charge a fee for tenants who won't allow this, and write checks for the rent.

Unfortunately tenants can't do much about this, other than passing on the unit.  And as more landlords start pulling this one, tenants are going to face a choice between paying more for the privilege of deciding how to give up their money or allowing some stranger to access their bank accounts.  Worse than that, the bank won't allow you to terminate the auto-pay without the consent of the creditor, so if your landlord pulled the money, for instance, after you moved, you'd have to go after the landlord to recover the money.

The State Legislature should intervene to stop this practice.  I have no other creditors who pull this stunt.  If landlords really want auto-pay, they should sign up for push transactions, and pay the cost.